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.
Of all starting pitchers who threw more than 100 innings last year, Phil Hughes led the group with a first-pitch strike rate of 71% -- only one of two pitchers who cracked the 70% mark (Arizona’s Patrick Corbin being the other). Naturally, Hughes continued that first-pitch strike tendency in his first start with the Minnesota Twins, turning the count over to 0-1 on 19 of the 24 batters he faced.
Sticking mainly with his heat in the situations (20 of 24), Hughes has been known to flip a get-me-over curveball on the first-pitch (21% of the time last year) however he twisted just one curve in yesterday’s game.
When Hughes had his opponents on the ropes, he turned to his fastball -- a tendency he displayed regularly while with the Yankees. In two-strike situations against the White Sox, Hughes targeted the upper portion of the zone and above, getting five of his seven strikeouts on the high heat (as shown below).
No one will ever claim that Trevor Plouffe’s bread-and-butter was taking a pitch the other way. After all, when Plouffe went on his home run binge a few years back, all of those pitches were yanked into the left field seats. Yet, so far this year, Plouffe has six hits and four of which have been to RIGHT field.
Here’s the interesting part: When Plouffe did go the other way last year, it was mostly on flies and pops. Those pitches were ones he was fooled on and fought off -- mostly sliders and fastballs down and away:
This season, Plouffe has DRIVEN pitches that have been up in the zone, shooting line drives to right field:
Starting the year 5-for-10 with three doubles (ok, one may have been a gift) and six RBIs is a strong way to jump out of the gate for Chris Colabello.
This spring Colabello spoke about how he was approaching his at bats and said that he moved back off the plate in the minor leagues when teams began to attack him on the inner-half. Last year he didn’t see too many pitches on the inside portion of the plate so he inched up closer to stay in the same zip code as where pitchers were targeting him.
Here is his pitch frequency chart from 2013:
Away, away and more away. This year the modus operandi has been the same:
What’s more is that the big right-hander has seen almost exclusively fastballs. It will be interesting to see how teams change their approach against Colabello as his success continues.
All charts and data provided by ESPN Stats & Info
More at TwinsDaily.com:
John Bonnes writes about MLB’s Territorial Rights issue.
Seth Stohs looks back on the results of the minor league opening day.
We know about the negative trends: three straight years of losing, a spring marked by consistently low offensive output, and several veterans whose numbers have been on the decline.
Those trends are no fun to think about, especially here in a young season that remains full of possibilities despite some discouraging early signs. Today, let's focus on some positive trends that emerged last year and will hopefully serve as precursors of things to come.
Nolasco's Nifty Second Half Run
After being traded from the cellar-dwelling Marlins to the contending Dodgers last summer, Ricky Nolasco went on quite the run. In his first 12 starts with LA, Nolasco went 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA and 62/17 K/BB ratio in 74 innings while holding opponents to a .213 average.
He turned in a few clunkers in the final weeks of the season, taking some luster out of his second-half numbers, but the impressive stretch was a reminder that Nolasco can dominate when he's locked in.
His overall results last season (best since 2008) certainly seem to be bode well, even if his first start for the Twins left a bit to be desired.
Colabello's Improved Discipline
During his initial exposure to major-league pitching, Chris Colabello looked pretty overwhelmed. Understandably he seemed rattled early on, posting an atrocious 18-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 plate appearances through the end of July. Yikes.
The International League MVP made some impressive adjustments at the plate, striking out 40 times against 19 walks in 126 plate appearances from the start of August through the end of the year. Nothing great, but a huge step forward. He continued to control the strike zone well this spring, with 10 strikeouts and eight walks.
We know that when Colabello hits the ball he can generate some legit power (that was on display Monday when he drove a double deep to right in the ninth inning) but keeping his K/BB ratio in check will be vital to his success at the plate.
Serving as a backup infielder for the Twins in the first half last year, Eduardo Escobar was simply brutal at the plate. When he was sent down in mid-July, his batting line was an anemic .214/.268/.328.
The demotion to Rochester proved to be just what Escobar needed to jolt his slumbering lumber. In 43 games at Triple-A, he hit .307/.380/.500 with 22 extra-base hits and 17 walks. Very nice all-around production for the 24-year-old. He returned to the Twins as a September call-up and batted .324 the rest of the way.
Escobar has never hit much in the past, so it's tough to put too much stock into the strong second-half performance, but he's seen by many as a late bloomer and if he can develop into a remotely effective offensive threat off the bench (or as a replacement for a scuffling infield bat) it would be a big boost for this club.
Swarzak Settling In
After spending his first few seasons as a swingman and long reliever, Anthony Swarzak transitioned into a full-time relief role last year, and over the course of the season he was given more and more opportunities to pitch in shorter late-game situations. He figures to see more of those chances this year, with Sam Deduno presumably taking over the primary right-handed long man role.
That's good news, because Swarzak thrived in full-time relief duty, posting career bests in ERA (2.91), WHIP (1.16), BB/9 (2.1) and K/9 (6.5). He was especially effective in the latter part of the season, putting up a 2.70 ERA while holding opponents to a .603 OPS in the final three months.
Many people are down on Mike Pelfrey due to his overall production in 2013, which certainly wasn't good, but I'm actually feeling confident in his ability to rebound and give the Twins a solid season. He made a rapid return from Tommy John surgery last spring and it showed in the early months, but in the second half of the campaign he was downright respectable, with a 4.39 ERA and .730 opponents' OPS from July through September.
Those are perfectly adequate numbers for a back-end starter making $6 million, and of course, now that he has gone through a normal offseason of rest and preparation, it's possible we haven't seen his best.
For three straight years, the refrain for hopeful Twins fans has been the same: Keep waiting, help is on the way.
That can be difficult to accept, especially when few signs of progress are evident on the field. The Twins lost 99 games in 2011, and they've lost 96 in each season since. It wouldn't be too surprising if they lost 90-plus again this year.
So why watch? Fortunately, you don't have to look far to find reasons.
Letting The Kids Play
First and foremost, that help we were talking about earlier? It's arriving. Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia are both slated as regulars from the get-go, and Kyle Gibson is in the rotation. Josmil Pinto should appear in the lineup several times per week.
These are some of the premier talents the farm system has produced, and they will now have an opportunity to significantly impact outcomes for the major-league club right from the start. More importantly, Alex Meyer and Byron Buxton are not far behind.
Meyer will start the year in Triple-A and Buxton -- who rocketed through two levels last year -- will get a late start in Double-A. Either player is a credible candidate for a first-half call-up, offering contingencies that have never been available to the Twins in the past.
It's not often that an organization has the best position player prospect in the game and one of the best pitching prospects, both simultaneously on the verge of reaching the majors.
These are the things you should embrace if you're having a hard time getting excited about the group that is set to kick off the season at 3:10 on Monday afternoon.
Admittedly, that group faces some daunting question marks.
Where Are The Runs?
Will Jason Kubel and Josh Willingham bounce back from rough years and hit again in the middle of the order? Will Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia make the adjustments necessary to excel? Will Trevor Plouffe's power return while Brian Dozier's stays? Will Joe Mauer's production improve with a move away from catcher? And can this mishmash bench provide any punch?
All these players have shown an ability to perform in the past, so in a way you can see why the Twins are pinning hope on them.
For a realist, though, it's difficult to believe that enough of those scenarios will play out the right way for the team to compete, especially after a spring that sent pretty much all the wrong signals.
It will be a shame if the Twins can't score enough, because the pitching staff is finally looking respectable. Minnesota enters the season with a rotation that carries a decent track record and solid upside.
It seems unlikely that the team will fly through arms as rapidly as in the past few years, and even if that's the case there is now a level of depth that simply hasn't been available before.
At the very least, having starters that don't routinely dig early five-run holes should make the games much more watchable, and if needs should become evident, there are prospects coming and there is a lot of money available to spend.
So help is on the way. Unfortunately, it might not be here as immediately as we'd like.
The Transition Continues
Miguel Sano's Tommy John development was a devastating blow that sadly reflects the present status of the Minnesota Twins -- amazing things are coming, with the potential to fundamentally change a losing culture, but we're just going to have to wait a little bit longer as the goalposts keep inching backward.
This year, players currently on the roster and ones that will join along the way have an opportunity to accelerate that timeline, providing a much-needed jolt to a snakebitten franchise that sorely needs one.
Head over to Twins Daily for all sorts of Opening Day goodness, including:
* Parker's look at Kurt Suzuki, and what the Twins are looking for from their new starting catcher.
* Seth's list of reasons to watch the Twins here in 2014.
* We're gonna win Twins, we're gonna score? How can this lineup produce enough runs?
Aaron and John talk about picking over/under win totals for each team, Kyle Gibson vs. Scott Diamond and Aaron Hicks vs. Alex Presley, Sam Deduno moving to the bullpen, drinking Hammerheart beer and eating all kinds of good stuff at New Bohemia, Vance Worley clearing waivers, how not to get an iPhone, Josmil Pinto and the catcher situation, Padres fan bartenders, and succulent sausages. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.
Here's the breakdown...
1:30 – Australian Twins
4:30 – Hammerheart/New Bohemia
7:45 – Running Sap
11:30 – Starter Race
22:30 – Assembling dreck
25:00 – Hicks return
31:00 – Batting 2nd
35:30 - Succulent Sausages
39:00 – Fattening up
40:30 – Vance Worley
43:00 – Twins catchers
43:50 – Bench speculation
48:00 – Shaving letters
49:00 – Aaron’s iphone
53:45 – Over-unders
57:25 – Houston Astros
58:30 – Beer flights
1:05:00 - Seattle Mariners
1:08:30 – LA Angels
1:13:00 – Texas Rangers
1:16:30 – Oakland A’s
1:20:30 – Blue Jays
1:24:30 – Baltimore Orioles
1:27:00 – Yankees
1:30:30 – Red Sox
1:32:00 - Tampa Bay
1:33:30 – White Sox
1:35:00 – Cleveland Indians
1:37:00 – KC Royals
1:39:30 – Detroit Tigers
1:42:00 – Minnesota Twins
1:46:00 – San Diego Padres
1:47:00 - Next week
Aaron and John talk about Glen Perkins' contract extension, St. Patrick's Day craziness, what the plan is for Josmil Pinto and Aaron Hicks, unwanted apartment guests, drinking and eating at Mason's downtown, Ricky Nolasco starting Opening Day, running into KFAN producer Ryan Donaldson and his crew, waitresses in short shorts, out-of-options Twins, and getting too excited about spring training stats. You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.
Aaron and John talk about going to Twins spring training in Florida, Byron Buxton and the first batch of Twins cuts, drunken women debating the quality of their butts, Johan Santana signing with the Orioles, hanging out at Mason's Restaurant downtown, housewarming gifts, singing bartenders, the Miguel Sano aftermath, giving shoutouts, and Twitter tabs.You can listen by downloading us from iTunes, Stitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com.
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