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.
It’s hard to ignore the numbers. They are pretty glaring. Overall this year, Minnesota Twins starter Mike Pelfrey is 3-6 with a 6.12 ERA in his first 13 starts. He’s allowing over 1.6 base runners per inning. It has been a tough go. In April, he posted a 7.66 ERA. In May, that number dropped to 5.90. Through two Quality Starts in June, he has posted a 4.05 ERA.
The numbers are bad, but it seemed to me from watching that things weren’t quite as bad as they seemed. For instance, in his final two starts in May, he was good through five innings. On May 26, he had given up just two runs through five innings before giving up three in the sixth giving him a final line of five runs in 5+ innings. On May 31, he threw five shutout innings before giving up three in the sixth.
So, I looked into the Game Log and found that Pelfrey has been victimized by the big inning a lot. So far this season, he has given up five runs in an inning once. He has given up three runs in an inning six times. Five times, he has allowed two runs in an inning (but just one did that happen twice in one game). Combined, that is 33 runs out of the 44 earned runs (and 46 unearned runs) he has allowed. 75% of his runs allowed have come during big innings.
You often hear coaches or announcers say, “The team needs to put up a crooked number.” The goal for a pitcher is to give up no runs in an inning, but it’s not reasonable to expect him to do that all the time. If he can limit a team to just one run, rather than allowing a big inning, it most often won’t hurt too much.
Pelfrey has thrown 64.2 innings this year. He has been removed from the game six times in the middle of an inning. So, he has pitched in a total of 68 innings. 12 of those innings, he gave up more than one run. He has given up exactly one run 11 other times. That means that he has pitched a scoreless inning 45 times. He has given up zero or one run in 56 of those 68 innings in which he has pitched (82.4% of his innings). His ERA in those 56 innings is 1.76. However, he has given up 33 runs in those 12 multi-run innings and that’s how he still has an ERA over six through 13 starts though.
I’m not sitting here pretending that we can just forget about those 12 multi-run innings that Pelfrey (and Twins fans) have endured. He would be the first to tell you that he isn’t happy with his season to this point. But a deeper look tells us what has been the problem for Pelfrey. When he has given up runs, often, he is unable to stop the proverbial bleeding. More often than not (12 to 11), when he’s given up a run, he’s allowed more than a run.
That, in my mind, has been the key to Pelfrey’s early-season struggles. And, if he is able to limit the damage in those big innings, we should see his ERA (and his pitch counts) drop more quickly.
Aaron and John talk about their night in a Target Field suite, praying for Samuel Deduno, Oswaldo Arcia showing he belongs again, Clete Thomas subbing for Aaron Hicks, the Byron Buxton experience, Trevor Plouffe coming off the disabled list hot, grumpy Bonnes and sunny Gleeman, starting a team from scratch, releasing Anthony Slama, mailbag questions from listeners, and being chased by the cops. Here are:
Or, listen by clicking below.
Meanwhile, over at Twins Daily, Nick start a series on those "Damn Yankees" as we prepare for them to visit us in two weeks. He kicks it off with a kick in the basket, recalling The Cuzzi Call.
But there is plenty more. For instance, there is some good news about the AAA Red Wings, some bad news about the Low-A Kernels and some updates on the Twins on Twitter, for those wanting to connect to their favorite major or minor league player. Seth did a great job compiling this list. Swing by and enjoy.
On Tuesday night the Minnesota Twins were mounting an assault in the eighth inning on Phillies reliever Mike Adams.
Having just relinquished the tying run the half-inning prior, the Twins had runners on the corners and one out. The Outfield’s “Your Love” blasted over Target Field’s sound system indicating that Josh Willingham would be arriving to the plate. Adams, however, was able to get Willingham to pop out in foul territory for the inning’s second out.
This brought Justin Morneau to the plate with two down. The Phillies countered with the left-handed Antonio Bastardo. Morneau fouled off four tough pitches before he laced a line drive to center to score Jamey Carroll, giving the Twins the lead which would later be preserved by Glen Perkins in the ninth.
In a nutshell, this is the major difference between the team’s two more prominent bats in the middle of the lineup. Willingham, who leads the team with 10 home runs, has seen his overall batting average slip to .214 and has hit .212 in 65 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. Morneau, who has not homered since April 28, has been able to find other ways to drive in runs when needed and has provided a .359 batting average in his 78 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
Willingham’s power has still been a major factor for the lineup but his inability to keep the ball on the playing surface and reach safely has decreased his potency. His pop out to third base on Tuesday was a prime example of his struggles. Equipped with a significant upper-cut swing which helped him take to the skies and jack 35 home runs last year, this same method has been a detriment to him this year. According to Fangraphs.com, Willingham has hit 70 fly balls and 17 of those have not left the infield. That 24.3% infield fly ball rate is second in all of baseball -- behind only Atlanta’s BJ Upton (who is currently impressing his new team with a .161 average) -- and well above his career rate of 13%. This is the main reason his batting average on balls in play has dropped to a career-low .258.
Willingham recently told the Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman that:
Judging by his splits, Willingham is actually performing better in counts in which he is ahead in the count this year in comparison to last year. This year, he’s batting .273/.500/.545 compared to .244/.473/.494. Where he is experiencing the most decline is in even counts (first pitch, 1-1, 2-2). In 2011, he hit a robust .284/.308/.607 with 17 of his 35 home runs. This year it’s down to .227/.292/.485 and 5 dingers.
A cursory search at TexasLeaguers.com’s PitchF/X tool shows that Willingham has seen some of the cherry pitches disappear from a year ago as opponents adjust. In the 1-1 count last year, Willingham saw 40% fastballs. It is down to 30% this year. In 2-2 counts, his slider percentage when up from 20% to 28%. This shows that teams are approaching Willingham slightly different and may be the cause of his high percentage of infield flies.
While Willingham is having problems lofting fly balls out of the infield, Morneau is unable to lose them over the fence. Like Willingham, Morneau has also hit 70 fly balls this season yet only two have had enough distance to them so he could jog around all the bases. Morneau’s home runs-to-fly balls rate is at a career-low 2.9%. To put that into context, the 2.9% rate is the 11th-lowest in the majors, squeezing the one-time slugger in between such power threats as Juan Pierre (2.3%) and Marco Scutero (3.3%).
Morneau seems flummoxed by this development. In his conversation with Star Tribune’s Jim SouhanMorneau said that he’s doing everything he had in past years but the results are not showing.
But will they turn into homers?
There could be dozens of factors playing into Morneau’s lack of home runs. Mechanics, injury and age could all be contributors. Mechanically, he’s flying open more than he had in past seasons, which may limit his able to drive the ball down in the zone that he once had demolished regularly. Take a look as his home runs by location since 2008:
He was able to launch plenty of home runs on pitches right down the middle and middle-low. If a hitter is flying open, that pitch becomes increasingly difficult to drive. Now, the only two home runs he has hit this year have come on pitches inside and out of the zone – a spot easier to drive if a hitter is flying open:
Beyond that, Morneau’s average distance on his fly balls are down considerably too. According to BaseballHeatMaps.com, from 2010 to 2012, he averaged 278 feet per fly ball. That’s down to 260 this year.
Additionally, the speed in which the ball leaves his bat is also down. The extremely small sample size notwithstanding, HitTrackerOnline.com says Morneau’s two home runs averaged an exit speed of 101.4 miles per hour whereas it was 104.4 in 2012, 102.4 in 2011 and 104.9 in 2010. At this rate, if the average speed off of the bat decline is any indication, it seems difficult to believe that Morneau is “just missing” and that there is something else behind his power outage.
The Twins tandem in the heart of the order are both having down years for separate reasons. Both, too, are potential trade candidates at the deadline. However, at this pace, the return for either would be quite underwhelming unless they are able to increase their production soon.
After it was announced on Sunday that he'd been promoted to Double-A, 20-year-old Miguel Sano became the center of attention in the Twins' farm system. That lasted less than 24 hours.
On Monday afternoon, the Cedar Rapids Kernels -- Minnesota's Low-A Midwest League affiliate -- had their game televised on Fox Sports North. Although it was an off day for the Twins and the Kernels have numerous quality prospects on their roster, the real reason for this unusual occurrence was obvious. This was all about Byron Buxton, who was the topic of conversation for nearly the entire three-hour broadcast
Playing under the brightest spotlight of his entire life, Buxton lived up to the hype and then some. He did so many incredible things in this one game that it's difficult to pick a highlight.
There was the bases-loaded double, crushed off the wall in left-center, that plated three runs and broke the game open early on.
Then there was the triple a few innings later, where Buxton reached out and -- seemingly without exerting much effort -- stroked a ball about 350 feet into right-center field, then sped around to third base in roughly half a second. Buxton's quickness between bags made it easy to see why the Star Tribune's Jim Souhan remarked, after studying the meteoric prospect last month for a column, "He goes from first to third like he knows a shortcut."
Overshadowing Buxton's heroics at the plate and on the base paths were his efforts in center field -- particularly one diving catch at the warning track that was legitimately one of the finest you will see on a baseball field all year.
On this particular day, all of the outfielder's vaunted five tools were on display. The ease with which he, as a teenager, is handling his first hack at full-season ball nearly defies belief. Buxton appeared to be on another level from his competition Monday, and his overall numbers reflect that. He leads the Midwest League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. He's among the top five in walks, stolen bases and RBI. He has scored 60 runs; the next highest total in the league is 42. We haven't seen this kind of utterly dominant performance in the minors since…
Oh yeah, that Sano guy. He's no stranger to the spotlight, having been the subject of a popular documentary before taking American baseball by storm. Sano put forth an incredible performance in the Midwest League last year, bashing 28 homers with 100 RBI in 129 games. Now he has followed that up with a ridiculous showing over the first two months at Ft. Myers. Not only did his 1.079 OPS lead the Florida State League by more than 100 points, it was also higher than any mark that's been posted in the FSL since 1999.
The prodigious Dominican was labeled a Top 10 prospect in the game prior to the season by Baseball America, and has only raised his stock with an historically amazing first half at High-A; now he becomes baseball's youngest player at the Double-A level. Yet, there seems to be a consensus that the more well rounded Buxton has surpassed him as a prospect. When Buck inevitably gets the call to Ft. Myers -- probably a matter of days, not weeks -- he'll once again steal away all the buzz.
That doesn't exactly seem fair for Sano, who's doing everything right, but it's a sign of the times. The Twins currently feature two of the game's most spectacular young talents. In fact, rarely has any organization ever had two such players rising through its system simultaneously. By the end of the year Buxton and Sano have a legitimate chance to rank No. 1 and 2 on many national prospect lists.
A rebuilding franchise could hardly ask for a better one-two punch than that.
For all who watched The Byron Buxton Show on Fox Sports North on Monday, there is no question who the top prospect on the Cedar Rapids roster is. Buxton was the clear-cut focus of the broadcast, and for good reason. Not only was he 3-4 with a single, bases-clearing double and triple, but he made one of the best catches you will see all year. He is also hitting a robust .350/.444/.578 (1.022) with 14 doubles, eight triples, seven home runs 60 runs scored, 47 RBI and 26 stolen bases. He has earned all of the attention.
However, this is much more than a one-man team. I like to see the other guys get some attention as well. This Kernels team is stacked right now. Within days, they will claim a playoff spot for the season’s first half and they have eight players on their current roster who were named All Stars. That doesn’t include Tyler Duffey, who was promoted last week after being named to the team.
Today, I am going to give a little bit more information on some non-Buxton players that you may want to keep on your radar. Here are eight other Kernels that ranked in my Top 52 Twins Prospects last week (my organization ranking in parentheses).
JO Berrios (5) – The righthander from Puerto Rico was the Twins supplemental first round pick just one year ago. He signed pretty quickly for $1.55 million and pitched great at both the GCL and Elizabethton. Combined, he walked four batters and struck out 49. He is young, but he was chosen to play for Puerto Rico in the WBC this spring. Because of that, his regular season was delayed as he built arm strength. However, he earned a spot on the Midwest League All Star team. In eight starts, he is 4-3 with a 3.61 ERA. He had a bad start his most recent start. It was the first time that he had given up more than three runs (something he did just once as well). In 47.1 innings, he was walked just 12 and struck out 50. He throws a fastball that touches 94. He also has a very good curveball and changeup and knows how to pitch. He just turned 19 at the end of May.
Jorge Polanco (9) – Polanco signed with the Twins in July of 2009 as a 16-year-old free agent from the Dominican Republic and is still just 19. He was small, and skinny. He was known for tremendous defense, and that has proven true in his time with the Twins. However, he spent two years in the GCL and hit .233 and 250. He had an offensive breakout season last year in Elizabethton, but how would it transfer to a full-season league? Well, since Opening Night when he batted second, he has been the Kernels number three hitter all season. He has hit .291/.342/.447 (.789) with 17 doubles, seven triples, two home runs and 44 RBI all while playing very well at second base. He will continue to get some time at shortstop throughout the year.
Travis Harrison (10) – When the Twins drafted Harrison out of his California high school as their first supplemental first round pick in 2011, there was a thought that he would be a very difficult sign. He had a strong commitment to USC, but in the end, he decided he wanted to sign and play. The $1.05 million signing bonus may have factored in as well. Harrison has tremendous power potential. He is very strong. He also has a good approach at the plate, making him potentially more than just a home run hitter. So far this year, he is hitting .265/.347/.470 (.817) with 17 doubles, nine homers and 32 RBI. He actually had a tenth hit that went over the fence, but he was only given a walk-off single rather than a walk-off grand slam. His glove at third base is a work-in-progress. He works really hard at it and has improved greatly in 2012. It’s important to remember that he too is still young. He won’t turn 21 until after the season.
Adam Brett Walker (12) – Walker’s father (Adam) was a replacement player for the Minnesota Vikings in 1987. He was a great athlete and so is his son. Walker grew up in Milwaukee and chose to go south for college, playing at Jacksonville University. The Twins made him their third round pick a year ago. As the 97th overall pick, he signed for slot value of $490,400. He went to Elizabethton where he hit 14 home runs before hitting some huge homers in the Appalachian League playoffs. Although he doesn’t like to walk and strikes out quite a bit, he has shown great power for the Kernels. He is hitting .272/.325/.525 (.850) with 15 doubles, five triples, ten home runs and 51 RBI. He is a big man at 6-4 and 230 pounds, but he has good speed and plays a solid defense in right field.
Niko Goodrum (15) – Goodrum was unable to play in the game yesterday because has been on the Disabled List with a concussion. He has resumed baseball activities and hopes to return just before the Midwest League All Star game so that he can play in the game. He has had a very solid season. He is hitting .270/.382/.388 (.770) with 12 doubles, three triples, a homer and 28 RBI. He is very patient at the plate and has good, solid swings from both sides of the plate. He also plays a very good shortstop and has a strong arm. Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, Goodrum signed quickly for $514,800. He was a long, lanky kid. He was proud this spring to have reached 200 pounds and has been able to hit the ball with more authority.
Mason Melotakis (23) – The left-hander from Northeastern State was one of the Twins 2nd round picks last June. He signed for $750,000, about $68,500 below slot. The left-hander was clocked as high as 97 on the radar gun as a reliever in college. He will get an opportunity to start, and has done a pretty good job so far in Cedar Rapids. Following his seven shutout innings on Monday, Melotakis is now 6-2 with a 3.24 ERA. In 58.1 innings, he has allowed 57 hits, walked 28 and struck out 44. So, he is walking too many, to be sure. He also is not accumulating a lot of strikeouts. As a starter, his fastball is sitting 90-93 so as to be able to go six or seven innings. He likely has the potential to be a solid #4 starter or a potentially dominant left-handed, late-game reliever.
Hudson Boyd (31) – Boyd was the Twins 2nd supplemental first round pick in 2011. He pitched his high school ball in Ft. Myers and signed at the deadline for $1 million. Through 11 starts this season, Boyd is just 1-3 with a 6.02 ERA. In 55 innings, he has given up 58 hits, 27 walks and 43 strikeouts. So again, too many walks, but not enough strikeouts. Boyd will be 20 years old throughout the season, and I think there’s a chance he could be back in Cedar Rapids in 2014 for more development. However, he has a fastball in the low-90s. He has a very good changeup and a very good curveball, just not all the time. He has the pitches to be successful, but needs to be more consistent.
Dalton (DJ) Hicks (41) – If you saw the game on FSN, you saw that Hicks is a big man. He has a big, long, powerful swing. He has used it to hit .288/.363/.493 (.856) with 20 doubles, nine homers and 51 RBI. He was the Twins 17th round pick a year ago out of Central Florida. It was his walk-off grand slam that won the Appalachian League championship for Elizabethton a year ago. He has already turned 23, so I would guess that he will be moved up to Ft. Myers (with Buxton) after the Kernels clinch the first half title.
JD Williams (NR) – JD Williams is a guy that shows that repeating a level can be good. He was drafted in the 10th round as a great athlete out of high school in Florida. He was pushed to Beloit a year ago and struggled. This season, he has been an on-base machine. Despite hitting just .252, he gets on base 39% of the time and has hit 10 doubles, two triples, five home runs and driven in 31 runs. He has also stolen 12 bases.
There are nine “other” names to know in Cedar Rapids. That doesn’t even include right-handed pitcher Tyler Duffey or left-handed starter Taylor Rogers, who has a sub-2 ERA since joining the Miracle roster as well.
Also, hopefully in the next month, the Kernels will be joined by German outfielder Max Kepler. Luke Bard will hopefully heel up and be make starts for the team soon.
In other words, that four hour drive from the Twin Cities to Cedar Rapids will still be completely with it, even if Byron Buxton is promoted to Ft. Myers.
Head over to Twins Daily after reading all the great Star Tribune content, including:
Since 2010 the Minnesota Twins starting rotation has averaged a velocity of 90 miles per hour, which has been the lowest velocity in the American League. In that time, they have struck out the fewest amount of hitters (14.8%), had the third-highest ERA (4.76) and second-highest contact rate (83.6%).
In efforts to improve in these areas the Twins selected Kohl Stewart, a fireballer out of a Houston prep school whose skill set are projected to eventually help the rotation out of the lowly doldrums.
Armed with a mid-90s fastball that touches 97, Stewart, a Texas A&M recruited quarterback, has mowed down Texas hitters for several years and has jumped up on scouts’ radars as of late. With a decent frame to grow into, the 18-year-old right-hander grabbed the Twins’ attention enough to make him their fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Stewart knows that his mid-90s fastball is his centerpiece in his burgeoning repertoire. All pitchers know that they need to key everything off of their fastballs. Some have better fastballs than others. Stewart, however, is not the others. His fastball reaches 97 miles per hour – a velocity only a few arms are ever blessed with reaching. For the Twins, that’s just Glen Perkins who is capable of reaching that speed.
“There are days where you’re not going to have that pitch, but my fastball is a very comfortable pitch for me,” Stewart told reporters on his post-draft conference call. “I like to use both sides of the plate and work off my fastball. My slider is probably my second best pitch, with my curveball and changeup. I’m really comfortable throwing any pitch at any count.”
Of course, velocity means nothing without movement or location but Stewart is working on that.
Although Stewart says he feels comfortable throwing his fastball regularly and in any situation, it is the success of his secondary pitches that will help him become a starter in the major leagues. After all, two-pitch pitchers wind up in the bullpen – not the intended destination of a fourth overall selection. A starter needs three or more offerings in order to thrive. Currently, Stewart is a two pitch pitcher. Stewart has his plus-plus fastball and his plus-slider but he has also worked on developing a slower curve as well as a change-up. He has also tinkered with a sinker, something that keeps right-handers off-balanced.
“My slider is more effective right now, just ‘cause I started throwing my curveball just this year. My changeup has definitely come around. I’ve thrown that a lot more in the last year. And, I even have a little bit of a sinker just to give me something else to go hard in on righties. The sinker has kind of come to fruition, just in the last couple of weeks -- just throwing bullpens and messing around with some things.”
Overall, Stewart has clean and effortless mechanics. He does not possess any herky-jerky movement or any red flags like an inverted W arm action or any wasted lower-half motion that would put added stress on his suddenly valuable appendage. The mechanics, velocity and make-up are things that can be built upon.
Stewart, however, admits that there is plenty he needs to work on in order to become a successful major league starter. His slider, for one, is an area of his game he would like to improve upon. Scouts have called it a “wipeout” slider – one that has a ton of glove-side run for him – but ultimately does not look that appetizing to right-handed hitters as it disappears over the left-handed batter’s box.
“There’s a lot of things I need to develop. I need to work on throwing my slider inside to righties. Sometimes I let it get away, throw it too hard and it will go away to righties.”
No doubt that Stewart has a ton of promise but the fact he is a high school arm does mean he will produce the kind of return on investment like the collegiate counterparts like Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray do. A 2010 study in the Wall Street Journal found that high school pitchers taken in the first round tended to command more of a bonus than the college brethren, who were also able to realize their potential much swiftly.
That doesn’t mean Stewart has anymore likelihood of becoming Todd Van Poppel or Dylan Bundy as it does anymore than a found quarter on the ground coming up heads over tails. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan made it clear what they are looking for when they make a selection, and it has little to do with the current status or statistics. The scouts are looking for the skills, tools, body, competitiveness and attention that will project well for the draftee when they are 22 or 23 years old. The scouting department loves Stewart’s makeup and his athleticism. Those two qualities mean more long-term than his current talent alone.
The Twins are investing in the long-term future with their number one pick. Stewart can potentially give them a front of the rotation arm that can miss bats which has been desperately needed in Minnesota for a long time.
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