Darren "Doogie" Wolfson

Darren "Doogie" Wolfson has a passion for sports, but not a consistent forum in which he's allowed to spew his thoughts. Well, now he has one. Darren spent 12-plus years with KFAN Radio, wearing multiple hats - from producing and technically directing, to reporting and hosting. He spent a majority of his time working with Sid Hartman's son, Chad on the 'Chad Hartman Show.' Read more about Darren Wolfson.

Posts about Twins pitching

One of many ideas for the Twins this offseason: call Pat Gillick

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: August 29, 2011 - 6:38 PM
This past Wednesday, a letter from the Minnesota Twins arrived. It was a heads-up about renewing our 20-game season-ticket package for 2012. As far as I am concerned, as long as Dippin' Dots -- the most underrated dessert on the planet -- continue to be sold at Target Field, they have our money. I am also a sucker for outdoor baseball after growing up going to games in the Metrodome. 
But that doesn't mean that the status quo works. When you're the first team in franchise history to not exceed .500 at any point during the season, and have the potential to become only the second team in MLB history to lose 100 games with a $100M payroll, everyone needs to be evaluated, including TC the Bear. OK, not him, but the medical personnel, training staff, front office, coaches, and players all need serious year-end reviews.
  • In an offseason where they need to be pro-active, at least call new Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick. If he says no to a special-assistant position, so be it, but they should try.
  • Offer Paul Molitor a full-time coaching position. I have no idea if he is interested, but since he's already a minor-league instructor in the organization, it should be an easy one to gauge.
  • Instead of adding three extra days of fundamentals work in February, start that process now. The Twins allow far too many ground balls to get through the infield, fail to throw runners out on balls in the infield regularly, strand runners at third base with less than two outs, commit errors, don't go first to third enough, don't get runners from second to third enough, don't steal enough bases, or draw enough walks.
  • Hire the Orioles' trainer. It took him minutes to solve J.J. Hardy's aching wrist that the Twins struggled to fix all of last year. Hardy told 1500 ESPN's Phil Mackey: "In spring training I started to feel it and got a little bit nervous, going, 'Oh (expletive), here we go again.' But the trainers worked on it, got rid of it in about a week, and I haven't dealt with it since." Hardy added that the treatment he received from Orioles' trainers was different than what had been tried in Minnesota, but he added, "I don't want to get into that too much and make people look bad, but yeah. It definitely was a little bit different."
  • Small-ball is fine, but they still need multiple guys who can occasionally deliver the ultimate equalizer: the home run. It was thrown out by multiple people via Twitter on Sunday that the middle infield next year should be Trevor Plouffe (SS) and Luke Hughes (2B). Plouffe is out of options, so he should be on the opening day roster. But his throwing from that position is too suspect. I'd ask Plouffe to take 500 grounders per day Monday-Friday in Fort Myers from mid-November until spring training and see if he is capable of being the starting second baseman. I get it: finding home run power is no easy task. That's where the front office needs to get creative.
  • The ultimate equalizer for a pitcher is the strikeout. With a minimum of two starters needed -- Brian Duensing, who can be trusted in high-leverage situations in small doses, and Nick Blackburn should be moved to the bullpen -- they should look at signing free-agent Edwin Jackson and explore trade scenarios. With Hughes potentially capable of handling third-base duties, use Danny Valencia as a trade chip.


  • Find a Kyle Farnsworth (Rays), Al Alburquerque (Tigers), or Octavio Dotel (Blue Jays) on a one-year deal. In fact, sign multiple. Relievers are always available on one-year deals in free agency. It's on the front office to locate the right ones this winter. To a lesser degree, the same can be said about corner outfielders -- Johnny Damon (Rays), Jeff Francoeur (Royals), etc. In other words, if free agents Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are asking for too much money, it's not curl-up-in-the-fetal-position time. Pitching is the bigger priority.
  • Ask shortstop Tsuyohshi Nishioka if he really wants to be here, or if he has an interest in returning to Japan, where he remains a hero. If there's a way to get out from the remaining $6M on his contract, they need to do it.
I had three fans ask me at Saturday's game if this is the beginning of a three or four year down-cycle. It doesn't have to be, but shrewdness needs to be demonstrated.
This much is guaranteed: it'll be a fascinating offseason.

Time for Twins to think about 2012

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: August 9, 2011 - 2:23 PM

It's time for 1500-ESPN, the Twins' flagship radio station, to put their "#itshappening" t-shirts on clearance, or they could do a massive reprint with the Twitter hashtag, "#**itshappening."

Outfielder Delmon Young quit on a play against Toronto in May, and gave minimal effort on a home run by Chicago's Brent Lillibridge on Saturday, yet those two moments are easily forgotten when looking at his offensive statistics. Through arbitration, is he really worth $7.5 million next year? But can the Twins just non-tender him? It's one of many layered decisions for the front office.

Pitcher Nick Blackburn was mistakenly given a long-term contract when the team could have gone year-to-year and, predictably, he has struggled.

Catcher Joe Mauer has about the same slugging percentage as White Sox speedster Juan Pierre, and is lower than Texas' Elvis Andrus. However, if you are clamoring for a Mauer trade, he has a full no-trade clause. He still is a great player having a not-so-great year.

Danny Valencia comes at a very reasonable cost, but still has us wondering if he's the long-term answer at third base.

There is no wondering if Tsuyoshi Nishioka is the long-term answer at shortstop. He's not.

We have no idea if first baseman Justin Morneau will ever mash like he did in 2006, or the first three months of last season.

Outfielder/infielder Michael Cuddyer, the team's MVP this year, will command an eight-figure-per-year salary in free agency, making his return, and rightfully so, doubtful.

Soon-to-be free agent outfielder Jason Kubel should have no problem getting an offer that will trump anything the Twins present.

Except for lefty Glen Perkins, the bullpen has to be rebuilt. That could include current starter Brian Duensing, who has struggled mightily to contain right-handed hitters.

A shrewd move by the front office was not signing Francisco Liriano to a long-term deal. But for $5 million, he should be tendered this off-season and given one more chance in 2012. If he disappoints again, he'll still have trade value next July.

Another shrewd move will be to explore if a No. 1 bulldog-esque ace is available. The issue: do the Twins have enough ammo to pull off such a move?

This is a monstrous off-season for the Twins' front office. They can't botch it like they did the non-waiver trade deadline. It was a seller's market, and they didn't sell.

A lot will be forgiven if the right moves are made this winter. But the convenient excuse of injuries this year shouldn't be accepted. It partially explains this year's downfall, but not nearly all of it. What this year mostly has become is a reminder about how many guys had career years in 2010: Morneau pre-injury, Valencia, Young, Carl Pavano, Liriano, and Duensing, and a dominating bullpen.

An infusion of talent is necessary on many fronts.

Central parked no longer: Division race over for Twins

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: June 1, 2011 - 12:23 AM

This season, the Twins have more blown leads -- 18 -- than they have wins -- 17. Worse: eight of those 18 blown leads have come after being up after seven innings. They have the worst run differential in the American League by more than 50 runs (-91). They have scored the fewest runs, and given up the most runs, in the American League. They have yet to win a three-game series.

That said, they may still approach 75 wins because the offense is capable and the starting pitching can tease us enough. But defensively, in left field and right field, and at second base and shortstop, they don't represent well enough, especially when they lack enough strikeout-type pitchers. They are incapable of running the bases well and lack the ability to steal bases (12th in A.L. with 24). Plus there is an inability to score from first on balls to the gap and poor judgement from third base coach Steve Liddle. It all adds up to one simple conclusion: any hope of making the playoffs is over. 
Yet, all their issues pale in comparison to the bullpen. I can see why the Twins' brass thought they could get by with this collection. In the nine previous years with manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson shaping and molding the relievers, the worst they ever finished in collective earned run average was 6th-best in the A.L. They had always found a way before. But this year is different. Even with minimal success in the remaining 109 games, there is a decent chance that this collection will finish as the worst bullpen in Twins history.
I don't fault Smith for not offering free agents Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes, and Jon Rauch multiple-year deals. Where he failed was not signing a few viable alternatives to one-year deals. Relievers can always be found on those type agreements. For example:
  • Kyle Farnsworth - 1 year, $3.25 million with the Rays
  • Al Alburquerque - 1 year, $400,000 with the Tigers. They were ripped for giving him a major league contract, but savvy work by general manager Dave Dombrowski's scouts has manager Jim Leyland with a solid seventh-inning option.
  • Matt Albers - 1 year, $875,000 with Boston.
  • Todd Coffey - 1 year, $1,75 million with Washington.
  • Chad Qualls - 1 year, $1.5 million with San Diego.
Statistical analysis, particularly with Coffey and Qualls, suggested that they would have bounce-back years. No level of analysis presented very positive data that Jim Hoey, Dusty Hughes, Eric Hacker, or Jeff Manship could provide any level of decency this season. In addition, reliever Billy Wagner is the exception when it comes to post-Tommy John surgery success. It was ridiculous to think that Joe Nathan would be adequate one year removed from that type of injury. 
It is not, however, all doom-and-gloom for the organization. Heads shouldn't roll in the front office or in the dugout. Six division titles earns Gardenhire, et al., the equity to return. This year should convince them that major player-personnel changes need to take place. The Twins haven't drafted and developed a shortstop in over 20-years. Jose Reyes will be a free agent this winter. Sign him. Like relievers, corner outfielders can be found on short-term deals in free agency -- Johnny Damon, Jeff Francoeur, etc. It's time to cut the chord on Delmon Young. Get what you can for him before making the mistake of investing big dollars and a lot of years. Michael Cuddyer is a stand-up guy, and an easy guy to root for, but his numbers since the start of 2010 trump everything else. Not an easy decision considering all that he does behind-the-scenes, but it's time to move on. Offering Jason Kubel arbitration is an easy call. Bringing him back on a one-year deal is a no-brainer, but he'll likely say no, sign elsewhere, and 2012 draft picks can be had. At the non-waiver trade deadline, offers need to be considered for Cuddyer, Young, Thome, Kubel (if the offer is better than draft picks), Matt Capps, Carl Pavano, and others.
Until then, all I can ask for is entertaining games. The Twins have at least provided that in the last few weeks. 46 more wins from June 1 on, and they can avoid being just the second team in history to have a $100 million payroll and lose 100 games. 

Trading Liriano foolish unless an established commodity is the return

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: February 14, 2011 - 8:47 PM

I really wanted to blog the absurdity of Iowa fans taking a picture with the Insight Bowl trophy this weekend or the impossible feat that director Adam McKay pulled off with "Step Brothers" -- making a movie with Will Ferrell unwatchable.

Instead, I will focus on the Twins and a trade idea.

It was a simple question via my Twitter account (@DarrenWolfson): Who says no to this trade: pitcher Francisco Liriano, outfielder Ben Revere, and prospects Chris Parmelee (1B) and Adrian Salcedo (P) to Arizona for outfielder Justin Upton?

Some of the 38 responses:


  • From @winegarden13 -- I want to believe but please convince me that Upton trade wouldn't be Garza/Young part deux.
  • From @SixHoleMN -- MLB is not a video game. How about Kubel and 8 best prospects for Pujols and Wainwright? Who says no? Dumb.
  • From @Skiumah_Smokers -- why are you targeting an OF. It's the easiest position to fill. If Liriano's gotta go, get a SS prospect.
  • From @CoreyEttinger -- I'm all about getting Upton, but your deal seems like a significant overpayment.
  • From @fran_the_man -- Already likely overpaying just with Liriano. He'd be best pitcher in NL, outside of Philly.
  • From @cjloken -- Almost every scout, baseball expert or GM would say that Upton for Liriano + 3 prospects is a great trade for #twins. #MLB
  • From @mission1619 -- Liriano for a guy who OPS'd .898 with 26 hrs and 20 stls and great D in his age 21 season. I'll take it.
  • From @minnemike -- If Liriano gets traded, we better get some nice arms back.
  • From @rolson21 -- I don't think that is enough for J. Upton. Gonna have to be Liriano-Hicks +, J. Upton is gonna be a top 5 guy and soon.
  • From @MNTwinsGUFS -- whoa... our #1 pitcher and 3 of #Twins top 15 or 20 prospects for Upton? What are you smoking?
  • From @oscardagrouch27 -- Twins giving up way too much.
  • From @T_Charbonneau -- I have concerns about Upton's health.
  • From @consigliari51 -- No conversation about Upton to the Twins can occur without Sano in the package.
  • From @rpwhales11 -- no way minny makes that deal, just stupid.
  • From @ben_gundy -- Love it. Liriano goes to the NL, Cuddy doesn't re-sign and we spend all that cash next year on an ace.


According to Aaron Gleeman, only six players in the last 50 years -- Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Conigliaro, Boog Powell, and Cesar Cedeno -- have gotten at least 1,500 plate appearances by age 23 and posted a higher OPS than Upton.

He can run, hit for power, make good pitchers look ordinary, and play Gold Glove-caliber defense. He also has a team-friendly contract that runs through 2015. Why Arizona discussed him in trade talks at the winter meetings makes about as much sense as Lady Gaga's alien-like egg costume at the Grammy Awards.


Adding, or even slightly overpaying, for Upton is a no-brainer for any team. So why not put together a package for him headlined by Liriano? This basic idea is how Twins general manager Bill Smith should be thinking when talking with teams.


For reasons mostly unknown, two reports last week -- the Star Tribune and 1500espn.com -- indicate that Liriano is not in the Twins' long-term plans. Talking to one baseball insider this weekend, there is concern among many organizations that Liriano's violent delivery will eventually catch-up to him again. The Twins probably feel the same way, plus Liriano isn't exactly Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay on the dedication scale. 

Being two years away from free agency, Liriano's trade value will never be higher. Personally, I would keep him for myriad reasons, mostly because he is the only Twins' starter with electric stuff. Everyone else gets by on guts and guile. Scott Baker occasionally teases us, but not enough to move Liriano for two or three B+ prospects. But if a trade of Liriano is inevitable, Smith should stay away from a package of minor-leaguers, no matter how tantalizing they are. Move Liriano for an already-established player. If Smith has to sweeten the offer with his own prospects, then he should.

All coming out this week: Ricky Martin, the iPad, and a Twins preview

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: April 3, 2010 - 5:33 PM

The Twins scored the fifth-most runs in baseball last year ... and their lineup appears to be better. Pitcher Scott Baker and MVP Joe Mauer won't start the season on the disabled list. Reliever Pat Neshek is back. Even with no real closer, the Twins seem poised for a repeat run as AL Central champs. We get a breakdown of the team from Jonah Keri, one of the foremost experts around.

DW: Parker Hageman of TwinsCentric recently did a Q & A with Rob Antony, Twins assistant general manager. In it, Antony said the Twins finally hired someone to do statistical analysis ... are you surprised by the great success the Twins have had without employing someone in that capacity before this year?

JK: There are many ways to win games in baseball, being adept at scouting, drafting and player development is certainly one of them. The Twins do that better than maybe any other team in baseball (forget the little moves, how about Joe Mauer over Mark Prior, when many smart folks - myself included - thought Prior was the clear choice). Having said that, I'm a believer that the more weapons you have in your arsenal, the better. I tend to side with Rob Neyer's view that hiring "a guy" probably isn't going to do much to advance the use of analytics in making decisions; too many teams have gone this route and had the stats guy's opinions ignored up the chain. But it's a start, anyway. 


DW: Of all the new-age statistics, single out one or two that the casual fan is foolish not to pay attention to...


JK: I'm a big fan of Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement (WAR), because it does so much, so simply. It measures offense, defense, the player's position, all of that. And it expresses the number in wins. Forget batting average or any other stat - what's simpler and more fundamental to the game of baseball than how many wins a player contributes to his team (especially when measured against the kind of generic player you can pick up for free). For pitching, there are a ton of useful stats. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP - also found at Fangraphs.com) because it isolates the elements pitchers can best control (K, BB, HR) and strips out the impact of bad luck. FIP also has the added bonus of running on a similar scale to ERA - 3.00 or lower is outstanding, 5.00 or higher is lousy.

Baseball Prospectus has a ton of great stats, especially if you want to get granular. I especially like the metrics used for relief pitchers (WXRL, etc.), which do an infinitely better job of measuring value than saves, holds or ERA ever could.


DW: Using your number-crunching methods, how do you see the A.L. Central playing out?


JK: No need for too much number crunching - the Twins are the clear class of the AL Central. The loss of Joe Nathan will hurt, though more from a depth perspective than the relatively easy job of a modern closer, to get three outs before giving up a run, or even two, three or more runs. The lineup is really impressive. Mauer, Morneau and Kubel are terrific, love Denard Span as a lead-off man, and the acquisitions of Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome are exactly the kind of bargain veteran shopping that the team never did in its old, miserly days, but now seem very willing to do when armed with a sweetheart stadium deal built with public money. The Tigers and White Sox don't look like better than .500 teams, and the Indians and Royals are probably at least a couple years away from contention.

DW: Bill Simmons of espn.com recently wrote: Baseball is an individual sport disguised as a team sport ... agree?


JK: Yup. That's what makes it so conducive to measurement by the numbers. There are certainly stats that attempt to measure basketball (Basketball Prospectus, Hoopdata.com, 82games.com, KenPom.com and other sites do this well) and football (love Football Outsiders) and do an admirable job of it. But the bottom line is that there are so many moving parts in a basketball game, and it's not easy to measure, say, the defensive value of a player who does just enough to make Kobe shoot an 18-footer from an uncomfortable spot, or a good help defender, or a player who's adept at tapping rebounds out to teammates. Same thing with football - you've got 11 on 11 every play, with a disproportionate amount of attention focused on whoever's holding the ball. The core of baseball is the match-up of pitcher vs. hitter. Easy to isolate, easy to understand, easy to measure statistically.



DW: The Twins will go with Jon Rauch as their closer after saying they would use a closer-by-committee approach ... which choice is better?



JK: The term "closer-by-committee" has so much baggage around it, I wish they'd change it to "closer-by-unicorn" or some other term that wouldn't inspire derision from sneering, old-school sportswriters. That aside, there are pluses and minuses to both approaches. My ideal bullpen would put my best reliever in the highest-leverage spots in a game. Often those are not save situations, but rather a bases-loaded jam in a tie game in the 6th or 7th inning. The challenge of that approach is that requires all pitchers to be ready to go at any time, as opposed to now where everyone can have a set routine, not only for the closer but also the designated 7th and 8th inning guys. In the case of the Twins, there's really no good reason to experiment all that much, simply because there isn't one guy who's so much better than the rest as things stand. So if it's hard to even identify who your best reliever is, might as well make it easy and set up a traditional 7th-8th-9th progression.

I will say that if and when Pat Neshek returns to full health, he's a terrific pitcher who's death on right-handed hitters. Once he's 100%, I'd bring him in again any elite RH hitter (or group of elite RH hitters) in a close game, regardless of the inning.



DW: Putting Scott Baker aside, among Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, and Nick Blackburn, who will have the best year?



JK: Liriano has the highest variability of any of the Twins' starters of course. His monster 2006 season and his obscene spring training rate point to a pitcher who could be a top-10 Cy Young candidate; the rest of his career suggests a wildly talented but very erratic pitcher, one with a history of injuries to boot. You almost get the sense that Liriano is either going to be the staff ace, or that he won't top 120 innings.

If you want a safer pick, I'm a huge Kevin Slowey fan. He has terrific command and was simply the victim of bad luck and injury last year. But you look at his strikeout-to-walk rate from 2008 and you drool over what he can be if given 200 innings. He'll give up some long balls, but they could be Curt Schilling/Javier Vazquez-type home runs, where they're all solo shots because you're never walking anybody. The best thing to like about the Twins' staff is its youth: There's a strong possibility that we haven't yet seen the best seasons out of Liriano, Slowey and Baker. Not many teams can say that about our three best starters.


DW: Buster Olney recently said that the Twins have the best lineup in baseball ... agree? If not, where do they rank?



JK: Not quite the best as long as they keep playing Delmon Young in left and Atrocity du Jour at third base; J.J. Hardy's a question mark at short too, though I expect a nice bounceback season. I'd put the Yankees first, the Rays and Phillies bunched up at second (especially if you adjust for the DH/P hitting effect in the Phillies' case), probably Red Sox fourth and Twins fifth.



DW: Is Ron Gardenhire making a mistake choosing Nick Punto over Brendan Harris as his starting 3B?



 JK: The Twins' ugly options at third base aren't Ron Gardenhire's fault - the front office wasn't able to acquire Adrian Beltre or another player who would have been an upgrade, so this is what the manager has left. Danny Valencia could work out if he gets a shot, but anyone who walks eight times in 269 Triple-A at-bats makes me nervous - even though the rest of his minor league track record was better.



DW: You can have the Yankees or the field to win the A.L. pennant ... which side do you fall on?



JK: Anyone who takes the Yankees instead of the field is mathematically illiterate and someone I'd love to have in my fantasy league. The Yankees might be the best team in the league, but there are several strong teams in the American League this year, anything can happen in a short playoff series, and the Yankees face the toughest division rivals anywhere in the Red Sox and Rays just to make the playoffs. Not that I'd back the Twins over the Yankees per se, but as a Twins fan I'd feel pretty good looking at the competition I'm facing to get to the postseason, compared to the road those three AL East beasts have to take.


DW: As great as Target Field is, the Twins enjoyed incredible success in the Metrodome, especially recently, how much do you believe that they will miss the Dome?             


JK: Well, the last couple years the Twins have played much better at home than on the road, but if you go back a bit further, there are plenty of seasons where their home-field advantage isn't any bigger than the average advantage for a home team. I'm not discounting the possibility that the Twins benefited from the baggies and the roof and the noise and all the things that made the Metrodome unique, but I do think it's a little overblown.

Having said that, since Target Field doesn't appear to have any really kooky design quirks that might give the Twins an advantage, it's up to the Twins to convince the fans who built a stadium for them to come to the ballpark and be loud. There's something of a cascading effect to home-field advantage: If you play well, more fans show up. With more fans comes more noise, and the possibility for a greater home-field advantage.


Jonah Keri is a writer for BloombergSports.com and numerous other publications. He's also writing a book about the Tampa Bay Rays and their journey from worst to first in the American League (ESPN Books/Ballantine, Spring 2011). Follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jonahkeri.


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