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 171: Free agent outfielders

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: November 16, 2014 - 9:00 PM

Aaron and John breakdown the free agent outfielders available to the Minnesota Twins, walk through arbitration abitration decisions, introduce you to Starflyer 59’s latest album, discuss the latest additions to Paul Molitor’s coaching staff, encourage you to donate to Aaron Purmont’s family and review Fritos on a pizza.

Don't forget, you can subscribe to GATG using iTunes or Stitcher. Or listen by clicking on "Play" below.

And at Twins Daily, you'll find that a Twins prospect who led his team to the Arizona Fall League title.....

TwinsCentric: Twins pitching philosophy could use adjustments

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: November 14, 2014 - 10:57 AM
The Minnesota Twins are starting to reassemble their coaching staff after blowing up the group after the 2014 season.

At least one position was filled when the decision was made to retain hitting coach Tom Brunansky. Brunansky absorbs all of the data and analytics but has the ability to translate that into a practice his hitters can understand and take into a game. Now, hiring a pitching coach that would operate in the same guise as Brunansky would be ideal.
 
Pitching has been a significant issue for the organization as the team floundered its way to four consecutive 90-loss seasons. Although replacement-level personnel has played a significant factor in the pitching results, the Twins have failed to adapt to the changes in the game around them. And part of that may be sourced back to former pitching coach Rick Anderson.

In 2008, Anderson provided a scouting report of his young pitching staff that emphasized keeping the ball down in the zone. Specifically, for Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker, Anderson said keeping the fastball down was critical for success. In 2010, Anderson reiterated this belief. But Anderson was not alone in his assessment. On almost every broadcast, FSN and former pitcher Bert Blyleven would echo this as well. However, at least in Baker’s case, the inverse was actually true. From 2009 on, opponents hit .227 and struck out on 24% of their plate appearances while facing fastballs up in the zone against Baker. On the other hand, they batted .288 with strikeouts on 11% of their plate appearances on fastballs down. His success was found just below the letters.

For Anderson and Blyleven, the mantra of shooting the knees and maintaining a downward plane may have been true during their era of pitching but the game has evolved beyond the notion that you have to live down in the zone with your fastball to survive. In fact, it is more detrimental if you do.

While the rest of baseball was fawning over ground ball pitchers, the Oakland A’s ran the other direction and loaded their lineups with hitters who exhibit fly ball tendencies and uppercut swings -- a practice that would combat the downward action of sinkers and two-seam fastballs which live down in the zone. With that method, it is probably no surprise to learn that the A’s led baseball in hardest hit fastballs down in the zone (.212 hard-hit average) and put 26% in play as fly balls (well above the league average of 21%). Meanwhile, this uppercutting offense struggled to generate power on fastballs up in the zone, slugging just .293 -- the lowest in the American League.

And it is not just Oakland that is having more success versus fastballs down in the zone compared to those left up. This past year the league batted .216/.331/.344 on fastballs above the waist while they managed a superior .283/.387/.409 on fastballs from mid-thigh and below.

There are various reasons for this outcome. The first being a tenet of a Perry Husband’s theory of Effective Velocity. The reason why hitters often say a pitcher’s high fastball seemed to have more giddyup is because, as Husband’s research suggests, a hitter’s bat needs to travel further to make contact -- particularly up-and-in and middle-up above the strike zone. By locating a fastball properly, a pitcher’s heater can gain 1-to-5 miles an hour of Effective Velocity.

While the majority of the baseball world was teaching downward plane, the UCLA Bruins found success in the NCAA by going up in the zone. Most notably, with current Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer and then with Adam Plutko later in 2013. The Bruins pitchers aimed for what they call the “one spot” -- an elevated letter-high fastball out over the plate -- visiting that location in two-strike counts.

"It’s why [former Mets starter] Sid Fernandez had success,” current Astros pitching coach Brett Strom told Husband. “Everybody wants a 6'5 guy, but hitters have been conditioned for ages for a ball to be in a certain spot, from a downward plane. Fernandez sat really deep on his back leg and had a low release point. Hitters couldn’t adjust."


FOR MORE, READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE AT TWINS DAILY

***All data from ESPN/TruMedia***

TwinsCentric: Best defensive outfielders in free agency

Posted by: Nick Nelson under Lions Updated: November 11, 2014 - 9:36 PM

It's been clear for some time now: the Twins need to find themselves a left fielder during the offseason.

What should they be looking for in a prospective pickup at this position? Well, that also seems fairly clear. Considering that they fielded the worst defensive outfield in baseball this year, the Twins should really be seeking a player who can cover ground and provide some much-needed help for the pitching staff.

Today, we'll take a look at some outfielders available on the free agent market who are known for their fielding chops.

Although I'm not a huge fan of any defensive metrics, UZR is generally considered to be the most accurate measure over a large sample, so I've listed each player's career average per 150 games (in essence, this is meant to convey the number of runs saved defensively per season).

For reference, Twins left fielders collectively posted a -14.7 UZR/150 mark in 2014. Yuck.

Nyjer Morgan

Age: 34

B/T: L/L

Career UZR/150: 15.7

Morgan has been a defensive wizard. His 15.7 UZR/150 mark is off-the-charts good, and he has proven to be a major asset at all three outfield spots. He has also been a solid hitter for the most part and and an aggressive threat on the basepaths. Unfortunately, he's in his mid-30s and doesn't have much of a recent MLB track record; he was bad in 2012, spent the 2013 season playing in Japan, and missed most of 2014 with a knee injury. It's fair to wonder what "Tony Plush" is capable of at this point, though he'd be awfully intriguing on a minor-league deal.

Chris Denorfia

Age: 34

B/T: R/R

UZR/150: 6.7

Denorfia has spent years reliably patrolling the spacious outfield at Petco Park, and has usually managed to put up solid offensive numbers in the notoriously hitter-hampering yard, though he's coming off his worst season at the plate. He's a .292 career hitter with a .789 OPS against left-handed pitchers, and would be interesting as a potential platoon partner for Jordan Schafer.

Colby Rasmus

Age: 28

B/T: L/L

UZR/150: -0.3

Don't be fooled by that sub par overall UZR number; Rasmus has spent nearly his entire career playing center field. As an average defender there, he figures to be well above average in a corner, if he's willing to make that transition. In some ways, Rasmus is very appealing, as he has averaged about 20 homers in six MLB seasons and is the youngest player on this list. On the other hand, those factors will probably make him fairly expensive and he has posted a sub-.300 on-base percentage in three of the last four years, with K-rates that alarmingly continue to climb.

Endy Chavez

Age: 36

B/T: L/L

Career UZR/150: 7.5

Like Rasmus, Chavez's UZR total understates his ability because he's spent so much time playing center field. In the corners he has been nothing short of spectacular, though his rates have sagged in the past couple years as he's aged into his late 30s. The Mariners still liked his defense enough to get him into 177 games in those two seasons, despite a .650 OPS, but he can't really be viewed as a candidate to start at this point. 

Emilio Bonifacio

Age: 29

B/T: S/R

UZR/150: 3.1

The 29-year-old has carved out a nice career as a glove-first utility man, and he does his best work in the outfield corners, but he doesn't bring enough with the bat to profile as a starter. He has posted an OPS above .700 only once in his career.

Alex Rios

Age: 33

B/T: R/R

UZR/150: 5.5

Rios has been so-so in center but excellent in right field. He hasn't played much in left but there's no reason to think he couldn't. He is known for his cannon arm, and brings more with the stick than most players listed here. He is also an excellent base stealer and the Twins would probably welcome more speed to the lineup. The only question is whether they're willing to commit millions over multiple years to an inconsistent player in his mid-30s.

Nori Aoki

Age: 32

B/T: L/R

UZR/150: 3.6

Aoki has mostly played right field, where he rates very well, but he would seemingly be a fit in left. He is a disciplined hitter without much pop, sporting a .287/.353/.387 slash line in three MLB seasons with the Brewers and Royals. He is said to be seeking a three-year deal.

SUMMARY

Out of the players on this list, we can probably rule out Morgan, Chavez and Bonifacio, at least as starting options. They just don't hit enough to anchor a corner outfield spot. Denorfia would be fairly cheap and his righty bat would complement Schafer well. If the Twins are looking to make a more significant splash, then Rasmus, Rios and Aoki are all worth a long look.

Who appeals to you most out of this group? Or would you prefer to look elsewhere, like a trade or international signing?

~~~

Plenty of other free agent outfielders -- as well as potential trade targets and international options -- are profiled in the Twins Daily Offseason Handbook, which you can buy now and download immediately. You'll also find a lengthy interview with Terry Ryan, in-depth payroll and roster analysis, arbitration estimates, and more. It's a perfect read on these cold, snowy days. Order now!

TwinsCentric: Paul Molitor and stealing bases

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: November 7, 2014 - 9:10 AM

Many words have been dedicated to Paul Molitor’s baseball genius since his official press conference.

Players have lined up to offer anecdotes that show how differently and intensely the Minnesota Twins’ new manager sees the game. He rolled balls down the baselines to see how a bunt will break. He pulls grass out and lets it dance in the wind to see which way the ball will carry for the outfielders. He tastes a handful of dirt so the infielders will know if there will be bad hops. In short, as a coach he has been a ball guy to the core.

Molitor’s main role in 2014 was as a baserunning coach. Sure, he aligned defenses and added an analytic flare to the process but his job was to improve the movement on the bases. Judging from raw numbers, the Twins made strides in this area. They went from first-to-third more often, they moved up bases on outs and they stole more bases.

Of all the personnel on the team from 2013 to 2014, Brian Dozier has credited Molitor as making significant improvements to his running game. In terms of stolen bases, Dozier not only increased his number of steals but also posted a higher success rate.

 

Based on that, I ran through video of stolen base attempts hoping to find unquestionable evidence of Molitor’s influence in Dozier’s game. Like suicidal leads or telepathic jumps the moment the pitcher twitches a muscle. Any video confirmation that Molitor’s tutelage helped the second baseman swindle seven more bags in 2014. Alas, there was nothing concrete that said since Molitor’s addition to the staff, Dozier started doing this differently and added more steals.

This is not to say that Molitor did not levy some improvement to Dozier’s running game -- it is simply more of an effect that cannot be picked up from the three dozen or so clips of Dozier stealing available at MLBAM. Once StatCast is made ready to the general population we may be able to decipher if he is getting better jumps but for now the available data reveals little differences in his run game. The results are not related to a reengineering of his mechanics but rather an increase in his level of preparedness.

"It's been night and day compared to every other year, as far as dissecting pitchers, knowing exactly what they do, their tendencies, stuff like that,” Dozier told FoxSportsNorth.com’s Tyler Mason in May of this year. “[Molitor] has a five, 10-minute conversation with me before every game and every single thing that he's got on film from the pitcher, tendencies, everything."

Last year, Dozier did increase the number of attempts to steal third which often came against infields that were shifting left-handed batters. After making a break for third three times in his first two seasons, Dozier bolted for the hot corner six times this year. Was that game plan created by Molitor -- or was Dozier just savvier in his third year when he perpetrated those thefts?

Beyond the pitchers, Molitor would also check out the environment. Each stadium’s infield cut would be slightly different at first base. Some have big swooping cuts like Target Field while others like Oakland’s O.co Colusieum would have small cutouts. In some case, even one foot past the cut would be borderline insanity while in the other two feet past the cut would still be a step-and-dive away from first. Before each game, Molitor would help establish where a runner’s lead should be.

“The cut on the grass at first base is different at every park,” Dozier told the Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins after Molitor was introduced as the new manager. “He would get his lead and then visualize where that cut on the grass is right beneath his feet. So he would know the cut of the grass is at my right foot in a 14-foot lead. He would say, ‘OK, this is where my lead is tonight.’”

This advice may be able to provide a player like Dozier -- whose speed is not at the level of the Dodgers’ Dee Gordon or the Phillies’ Ben Revere -- an advantage that could provide a handful of successful stolen base attempts in a seasons.

Another element of his run game that is probably overlooked is his ability to execute a terrific slide. One thing that will stand out when reviewing Brian Dozier’s stolen base attempts of second base is that he rarely beats the throw to the base. Take this example of his successful swipe of second against the Indians in 2012. The throw beats him by a significant margin but because of his ability to stay to the outside with his body and keep his left hand in until the last second, Dozier gives shortstop Asdrubel Cabrera a minimal target.

Yes, it may seem minor but when you review the film you see that Dozier’s head-first sliding abilities likely landed him several bases in the process. Against the Padres this year, Dozier may have “stolen” a base away from the National League West team by using misdirection by sliding far right of the base and slipping his hand in under. This leaves shortstop Jedd Gyorko who has the ball well in advance of Dozier to chose between tagging his hand or his body. Gyorko splits the difference and aims for the shoulder, allowing Dozier to slide his hand underneath.

Since Dozier’s been implementing this slide since his rookie season (and possibly in the minor leagues as well), it is hard to attribute it directly to Molitor. It is possible that he helped refine that while Dozier was in the minors but it is not something created since Molitor was added to the coaching staff.

Comparing Dozier’s slide tactics to those of the game’s top base-stealers in Gordon (below) and the Astros’ Jose Altuve, you find that those fleet-of-foot individuals prefer the feet-first slide into second. Their speed in conjunction with getting good jumps allows them to beat many throws to the base and the feet-first slide gives them the ability to pop up and scamper to third if there happens to be an errant throw:

To see how much Dozier’s slide can help his numbers, consider the case of Chicago’s Adam Eaton. In 2014, Eaton swiped 15 bases in 24 attempts, a lower success rate than Dozier. Eaton, by most accounts, is faster than Dozier. According to Fangraphs.com’s Fan Scouting Reports, Eaton has scored a 79 speed score over his career. Dozier, meanwhile, is at 60 with his speed score. Eaton has good instincts and a good first step. But, unlike Dozier’s ballet around the base, Eaton is a bulldozer of a slider. While using the head-first slide, Eaton goes in direct and hard at the bag. On several occasions this has helped dislodge the ball but on others it has aided the opposing team by sliding directly into the tag:

What this boils down to is Dozier doing the little things to provide himself with an opportunity to gain 90 feet on the bases. It is knowing the pitcher, understanding the surroundings and executing a ghostrider slide. How much of this is Molitor’s influence? That’s hard to say. Dozier spoke of how much Molitor prepared him and the team which has to have some factor. Clearly he has had some when it comes to improving the running game, but how much and in what capacity is not known.

TwinsCentric: Can St. Paul save Twins?

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: November 5, 2014 - 9:36 AM

My top concern as a Twins fan is winning baseball games, and I know I'm not alone in that sentiment. But I'm also a sucker for a compelling storyline, and the hiring of Paul Molitor as the club's new manager has the makings of a pretty great one.

In an excellent column for the Star Tribune this past weekend laying out Molitor's many managerial merits, Jim Souhan included this tidbit, which I rather enjoyed:

"The Twins’ only concern about Molitor throughout their relationship with him has been his occasional reticence to choose a defined career path. That is no longer a concern. Two people who know Molitor well said this week that he is driven to become a great manager, and to resurrect a franchise he loves."

I've been a Twins fan and a Twin Cities resident for most my life, so I can't help but get a little revved up by that dynamic. Molitor was born here. He grew up as a fan. He picked up his 3,000th hit in a Twins uniform and retired here. And he's spent nearly his entire post-playing career serving this organization in some capacity.

His ties to the franchise and the area are strong and deep. Molitor was born in St. Paul, and coincidentally, that might become his nickname locally if he can succeed in turning around this historically bad losing spell and shaping the Twins back into contenders.

Fortunately, things are set up very favorably for the new skipper. Regardless of who was going to be in charge, the Twins are positioned to make significant strides in the coming years, with their vaunted prospect core reaching or rapidly approaching the majors.

Helping those young players develop and realize their potential is the primary task in front of the new regime, and Molitor is as well equipped as anyone for that responsibility. He has familiarity with all the upcoming prospects, not to mention those who've already arrived, through his years as a roving minor-league instructor.

By now you've probably heard Molitor referred to as a baseball "genius" or "savant," with various individuals remarking on his unique and useful insights into the game. He has also been lauded by many players for his teaching skills, and for his ability to connect with Spanish-speaking kids in the minors. These are critical strengths considering the nature of the job he's taking on.

There are plenty of things for fans to like about Molitor. But a part of me does wonder if the new manager might prove to be a little too vanilla for the tastes of some.

We all know about the rancor that has surrounded Joe Mauer during the team's recent lean years. Some complain that the highly compensated star doesn't assume enough of a vocal leadership role. His calm demeanor can be viewed as overly passive, riling up invested onlookers.

The parallels between Minnesota's new manager and its longest-tenured player are numerous. They were born in the same town and went to the same high school. They fit the same playing mold -- disciplined hitters with picturesque swings and moderate power, delivering value largely through batting average and on-base percentage. (Both also were forced to switch to less demanding positions in their 30s due to injuries.)

And, from a personality standpoint, although Molitor hasn't had a major public presence in many years, he does seem to offer traits similar to Mauer. Both are studious and cerebral in their approaches to the game. Both are fairly soft-spoken.

The cynic could see this as a problem. Ammunition for frustrated fans to unleash on the newly appointed manager if things don't take an rapid turn for the better. It's a sad thought, but we've seen it before.

Then again, one might also suggest that this pairing opens the door for a legendary tale of hometown redemption. If the Twins are to turn things around in short order, a resurgence from Mauer could be equally important to the impacts made by prospects entering the fold. And Molitor will be at the head of it all, imparting wisdom and rejuvenating a franchise to which he has dedicated a third of his life.

Two generational baseball talents from Minnesota's capitol city. One, a 58-year-old Hall of Famer managing for the first time; the other, a 31-year-old former MVP (and perhaps future Hall of Famer) looking to prove that he can still be the centerpiece of a contending team. One must lead on the field -- through his performance if not his comportment -- and the other must learn to lead from the dugout.

It'd be a hell of a story.

Gleeman and the Geek, Ep 169: Paul Molitor

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: November 2, 2014 - 9:40 PM

Aaron and John start the podcast at New Bohemia talking about the the weird way that the news broke that Paul Molitor will be the next Twins manager and what it might mean, then run into a guy with a World Series ring, then find out he used to play with Molitor, then talk to the guy, then talk more about Molitor, and then argue about LaTroy Hawkins and Matt Capps for twenty minutes. So, basically, pretty much just like every other episode. You can listen by downloading us from iTunesStitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click the Play button below.

http://traffic.libsyn.com/gleemangeek/Ep_169_Paul_Molitor.mp3

Also over a Twins Daily, you'll find the offseason kicking into high gear:

- Nick Nelson lists candidates for the Twins new pitching coach

- The community reacted to the news that Molitor would be named manager. 

- SD Buhr interviewed two of the Twins prospects at the Arizona Fall League.

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