Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Value of Trevor May as a 4th Starter

I frequently read Baseball Prospectus's prospect chats.  The Twins' farm system is loaded and there are always a handful of questions about their players.  Here are some semi-recent quotes about future Twins' starter Trevor May:

”(May) wasn't in the mix for the 50; backend profile for me/innings chewer without frontline upside." - Jason Parks

"(May's) best control yet gives him a chance to stick as a back end guy. The production has never quite added up to the stuff. He could still stick or would still make a good pen piece." - Jeff Moore

"I've never been that enamored with May's long term outlook, and never saw the high-end arm that some did. To me, he's more of a #4 starter; still valuable but not nearly as impressive as some would lead you to believe." - Mark Anderson

The consensus, at least among this group of experts, is that Trevor May is a future back-end, #4-type starter with limited upside.  His stuff has always been better than that, but his production has rarely matched.  He's not a top prospect.  Even so, I don't see these as disparaging quotes.  In fact, if Trevor May rounds into just a #4 starter, I'll be elated. 

Aim high, right?  Well, a good #4 starter is pretty valuable.  A good, durable #4 starter is very valuable.  A good, durable, cheap #4 starter might just be a huge indicator of team success.

May has been very durable.  In fact, when he missed a few starts just this past month, they were his first missed starts in nearly four years.  You cannot discount the value of a durable starter, even if he isn't the "Ace" of the staff.  In fact, a reliable back-end of the rotation might be harder to predict and more costly to produce.  Cost is important here too, as May will make the league-minimum for a few years, and reasonable salaries in arbitration if he simply performs as a 4th starter in his first few seasons. 

Of course, projecting May as a 4th starter is still just a projection.  He'll have to perform at that level when he makes it to Minnesota.  Right now, May owns a healthy strikeout rate, just about one strikeout per inning pitched.  He has also improved his walk rate, doing so while pitching at the highest level he has reached.  If he can continue to refine his command, there should be no reason to believe that he cannot perform at a 4th starter level. 

We all know that pitchers do not bring their AAA strikeout rates with them to the Majors.  Most often, that rate dips as much as 2-2.5 K/9, meaning May would sit more in the 6.5 to 7 K/9 range in the Majors.  While this isn't pure science, it gives us a unit for analysis.  I decided to see how many pitchers in the last ten seasons performed as a "4th starter" or better in their first three seasons in the Majors. 

I used a 100 ERA+ (exactly league-average) as the cutoff, and I only used pitchers who threw 170 or more innings.  May has thrown right around 150 innings in each of his last three seasons, so he seems like a reasonable bet for an additional 20 innings or more with an additional month. 

What good is a 4th starter who can't throw a lot of innings?  The whole concept of replacement value has proved that replacing members of the rotation with 6th and 7th starters creates a dramatic effect.  If May is going to have great value, his durability will be one of the biggest reasons why. 

I only looked at the pitchers who were in their first three seasons in the Majors because I wanted to see pitchers who either provided value at the league-minimum or who were so valuable that their team signed them to a larger contract to keep them around through and/or beyond arbitration. 

Using these parameters, I found just 110 pitchers.  Of those pitchers, just 19 appeared on this list twice and only one (Ricky Romero) appeared three times.  If the Twins are confident that May can provide a league-average ERA over 170 or more innings (obviously not in 2014), then they have a pretty rare young pitcher on their staff.  Roughly 11 pitchers per season mean this criteria, which I think makes May a pretty valuable potential player. 

Not all pitchers are alike.  Some get by for a season but fall apart because they don't have the stuff.  Some mature later.  Some remain stable.  I mentioned strikeout rate a little while back, so I wanted to see how these 90 different pitchers performed in year six, generally the last or second-last year before free agency. 

I divided the players into two categories - K/9 greater than 7 and K/9 less than 7.  If we assume May's AAA strikeout rate will be right around 7, we can see if he is perhaps more likely to be successful down the line, not just when he's making the league-minimum salary.

Not everyone on the original list has reached their sixth season, so the numbers aren't completely final at this point.  However, enough have made it to that season to look for a possible effect.  I used a 100 inning threshold in year six because it could account for a random injury within that selected year and it also eliminated some outliers. 

Of the 32 pitchers on the original list with a K/9 rate greater than 7 in their third season, 22 had an ERA+ greater than 100 in their sixth season.  The average pitcher on this list had an ERA+ of 123 or 23% better than league-average. 

Of the 31 pitchers on the original list with a K/9 rate lower than 7 in their third season, 18 had an ERA+ greater than 100 in their sixth season.  The average pitcher on this list had an ERA+ of 112 or 12% better than league-average. 

It seems reasonable to conclude that good pitchers remain relatively good pitchers as long as they avoid injuries.  However, that difference in ERA+ shows that strikeout rate is very important.  If Trevor May comes out firing and can post a K/9 better than 7, Twins fans should be able to be confident that he can perform at a pretty high level while still making reasonable money. 

I keep bringing up salaries and values.  It seems logical that a team that spends less money on back-end starters is also able to spend that money on other parts of the team.  If that is the case, teams that spend less money on 4th starters should perform better than those teams that spend more money on 4th starters. 

I looked at every MLB team's projected 4th starter going into the season.  I looked at their salary and how many starts they had made going into the All-Star break.  I then divided the salary by their number of starts to arrive at a salary/start figure.  Looking at the numbers roughly, it appeared that teams either spent well over $100,000 per start on their 4th starter, or well under.  I separated the teams into those two categories and then I looked at the winning percentage of each team.  Here are the results:

18 teams paid over $100,000 per start to their projected 4th starter and those teams had a collective winning percentage of .482 heading into the break.  12 teams paid under $100,000 to their projected 4th starter and those teams had a collective winning percentage of .528 heading into the break.  That's the difference between a 78-win team and an 85-win team over the course of a full season.  It's not a massive difference, but I think any team would take seven wins.

Arbitrary start and end points?  Check.  Arbitrary cutoffs?  Check.  No way to isolate the variable?  Check.  One year of data?  Not even, but check.  Obviously, this is not the most scientific of measures, but at least in 2014, a cheap 4th starter has been a measure of success.  Which team spent the most per start on their projected 4th starter?  The Twins, as they have paid Mike Pelfrey over one million dollars per start.  Trevor May looks very attractive now, doesn't he?

Wait, why are we using Mike Pelfrey anyway?  He got hurt right away, shouldn't we look at who actually held the 4th starter role? 

I'm not sure that makes sense.  Plans and budgets are formed in the off-season.  The team you go into the year with is much different than the team you leave the year with, but that doesn't mean you plan it that way.  If a team can logically conclude that they have their 4th starter figured out at the beginning of the season, and at a low rate, they can plan to spend their available money elsewhere.  At least, that makes logical sense to me.

Maybe Trevor May is just an innings-chewing 4th starter with little upside.  Maybe we'll always think that the Twins lost the Ben Revere trade because May never put together a great season.  Maybe we need to expand our concept of value to include traits like durability and cost-effectiveness.  If Trevor May forges a career of 180-inning, 100 ERA+ seasons, I'll be ecstatic.  And it's not just because I have low standards.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Morning Madness: July 21, 2014

Weekend Recap

Does MLB offer their teams refunds for entire series?  Can an MLB team get a "do over" on the first series out of a break?  If a tree falls in the woods, could it possibly join the Twins' lineup and produce a few hits?  Is suckatude a word?    

Arcia went 0-4 on Friday night, sat against a tough lefty on Saturday and then returned on Sunday with another 0-3, this time with two strikeouts and he was pinch hit for in the 8th inning.  Arcia is clearly not producing as many had hoped.  I predicted 55 extra-base hits from him in 2014!  Instead, he has 13 and the way he's been hitting, I wonder if he reaches 25 by the end of the season.

I still believe that there are reasons to be optimistic about Arica.  His walk rate has improved, his strikeout rate is slightly down.  He's hitting more line drives and fewer ground balls.  I would hope that he's in the lineup just about every single day going forward. 

I don't think sending him to AAA does him any good at this point.  He has a .999 OPS in AAA.  The Twins have sent him down with the hope that he'll mash AAA and bring that confidence or whatever with him to Minnesota.  It hasn't worked.  For now, they need to brute force this slump.  He needs to play until he breaks out of it.  He's too talented to slump forever. 

Hughes had another rough start on Saturday, giving up five earned runs over seven innings, picking up his sixth loss on the season.  Over his last six starts, Hughes has a 6.34 ERA.  In 38.1 innings over those six starts, he has 31 strikeouts to just 4 walks.  Not bad.  Unfortunately, he's given up a shocking 56 hits over those starts.  Even in his one good start during this stretch he gave up eight hits. 

His BABIP during those six starts is .421, both incredibly high and highly unsustainable.  Basically, Hughes is going through a rough patch, but he should be able to ride it out.  Back on April 20, when his ERA was 6.43, his BABIP was .394.  In the ten starts in the middle, his BABIP was .286 and his ERA was 2.08. 

It sucks that his ERA has spiked by nearly a run over his last six starts, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see it down in the low 3s again by the end of the season, especially if he keeps his strikeout and walk rates where they've basically been all year. 

Optimism Fading

I try hard to be optimistic with the Twins.  I predicted (read:  hoped for) a 75-win season.  I'm willing to concede that they are highly unlikely to reach that win total.  The offense goes cold for weeks at a time, the starting pitching is very inconsistent and what does a bullpen matter when the score is 5-1 after 4 innings?  

I greatly hope that the Twins don't completely fall apart in August and September again.  While I don't think they have the talent to reach 75 wins, I really don't want to sit through another 4-25 April.  I'd like to see some young players get time later in the season, but hopefully the few veterans who will remain can keep things together and win some games.  I'm tired of being in the "draft slot derby" in September.  I'd like to see the team finish respectably. 

Former Twin Update - Alexi Casilla

If you're wondering why we haven't heard much about Sexi Lexi this season, it's because he's spent his season with Baltimore's AAA team.  Well, at least the parts of the season when he's been healthy.  It's been a rough year for Casilla, as he hyperextended his knee in May and missed a bunch of time and now he's pretty much out for the season with a broken hamate bone. 

It's a shame because I always liked Casilla, even if his performance didn't merit my affection.  I'll likely always gravitate toward the short middle infielders because that was who I was when I played ball once upon a time.  Plus, we both have spaces in the middle of our front teeth.  Also, he was awesome.  Just ignore his 73 OPS+ in seven seasons with the Twins; he was awesome.

Fun Stat - 4th Starters

Did you know that teams who have paid more than $100,000 per start to their fourth starter have a collective winning percentage of .481?  Did you know that teams who have paid less than $100,000 per start to their fourth starter have a collective winning percentage of .528?  Why is this important?

Well, the Twins happen to have a young pitcher who many have predicted for the fourth starter role.  This particular pitcher is nearly MLB-ready (or already MLB-ready, depending on who you ask) and has been very durable in his Minor League career.  In addition, by way of being young, he will be very cheap and should easily make less than $100,000 per start when he hits the Majors. 

I'm going to expand on this in a post on Wednesday, as I have a whole mess of data and analysis related to Trevor May to share.  Check back on Wednesday!  Cliffhanger!

Baseball Card from the Past

Yep, Rickey Henderson often batted while sitting on six stolen bases.  You probably forgot about that. 

All-Star Game Recap!

As I mentioned roughly 4 million times, I attended the All-Star Game on Tuesday.  In my American League midseason award and predictions column (click here if you missed it), I wrote about how I reacted to a fan who said Mike Trout was overrated.  In addition to that blow-up, I also became irate when I dropped my turkey sandwich.  Seriously, I traversed roughly 30,000 people and 10,000 people looking backward in complete confusion to get to my seat, then I dropped my tantalizing sandwich. 

Make no mistake, I went back and got another one.  It had cajun seasoning and sweet and spicy BBQ sauce.  I made the right choice. 

Oh, the game was fun too.  I think Derek Jeter won.

Poll Results

Last month, I posted a poll with a simple question - When will the Twins make the playoffs next?  Here are the results:

  • 2014 - 2 votes
  • 2015 - 20 votes
  • 2016 - 17 votes
  • 2017 - 4 votes
  • 2018 - 3 votes
  • A depressingly long time from now - 10 votes
To be fair, the last one could overlap with a couple of the other options.  I voted for 2016, a year later than my original projection from before this season.  The two who voted for 2014 are incredible.  I would like to be their friend.  I did post a new poll, so check out my blog and vote.  It's what cool kids do.

Plugging My Way

Well, I already plugged my AL midseason award post, so for the sake of symmetry, here's my NL post as well:  click here!  If you're curious, I did not predict any awards correctly before the season and I did gutlessly change all of my predictions when given the chance.  You should read it, it's fun!

Parting Thought

The second half of the season is not off to a great start.  However, the Twins still have seven games at home to try to pull things together.  Of course, they'd almost have to win six of seven to really have a successful homestand.  I'm just going to assume that won't happen.  At the end of the homestand, the trading deadline will be nearly upon us.  The sweep from the Rays to start the second half might have been the best thing for the "fire sale" crowd and the worst thing for the "buy it now" crowd.  I'm in neither camp, so I'll just chill.  Have a nice week, everyone!

Friday, July 18, 2014

American League Midseason Award Winners and Predictions

With the second half of the MLB season set to start today, bloggers legally have to get their midseason predictions posted before any game action.  Since I am a law-abiding citizen, I will follow suit.  In March, I made award predictions and I stand by them, unless I was wrong, and then I will change them.  This is very serious stuff, so let's just get into it. 

Rookie of the Year

March Prediction - Nick Castellanos
Current Favorite - Jose Abreu
New Prediction - Danny Santana
Real New Prediction - Jose Abreu

I'm going to come right out and say that I didn't pick Abreu because I didn't want him to be good.  I really don't care for the White Sox and I didn't want to admit that Abreu was a smart signing and that he would help them win games.  I also did not want to select Masahiro Tanaka because he spurned the powerful Twins for the less famous Yankees.  However, if I had picked with my head, I would have selected one of those two. 

Instead, I chose Castellanos and he currently has a .701 OPS.  I do maintain that he is still the tallest of the three and that should count for something.  He only has 23 home runs fewer than Abreu, so he's within shouting distance.  Well, at least his defense rates very poorly. 

I really want to pick Danny Santana going forward but that would be lunacy.  I think he can come back and have a fun, flashy second half, but Abreu is going to blow the rest of the rookies away.  He's going to hit 40 home runs, it's really more of a question as to whether he gets to 50.  Tanaka is hurt, so he'll likely fall out of the race, but his first half was so strong that he may still come in second in the voting. 

Cy Young Award

March Prediction - Felix Hernandez
Current Favorite - Felix Hernandez
New Prediction - Felix Hernandez, POTUS

Obviously, Felix Hernandez cannot be elected United States President.  He is not old enough or born in the United States-y enough.  However, the way he has pitched this season, you have to wonder if we'd make an exception.  With Tanaka is injured, Hernandez is the heavy favorite.  Chris Sale and Mark Buehrle are in the mix, but Hernandez is the man. 

Let's take a few minutes to recognize Hernandez's ridiculous career.  2014 would be his third season with an ERA+ over 170, meaning he was 70% better than a league-average pitcher.  Here's the list of active pitchers who have had an ERA+ of 170 or better with at least 200 innings pitched in the American League:
  • Zack Greinke - 2009 - 205 ERA+
  • Johan Santana - 2004 - 182 ERA+
  • Hernandez - 2010 - 174 ERA+
  • Justin Verlander - 2011 - 172 ERA+
  • Hernandez - 2009 - 171 ERA+
Note the only guy on that list twice and therefore, the only guy with a shot at making it a third time. 

Hernandez has started at least 30 games in each season since 2006, with the only exception in his career being his rookie year (2005) when he was 19 years old.  Four pitchers have made at least 250 starts since 2006:  Verlander, James Shields, Jered Weaver and Hernandez. 

Since 2009, Hernandez has thrown 1302.2 innings and has an ERA of 2.77.  In the American League.  Here's a list of AL pitchers who have thrown over 1300 innings since 2009:
  • Hernandez - 1302.2 IP
  • Verlander - 1301.0 IP
That's it.  Verlander's ERA is 3.23 over that span. 

Hernandez hasn't allowed more than a hit per inning since 2007.  In fact, he's allowed just 8.1 hits per nine innings over almost 1700 innings since 2007.  Here's a list of AL pitchers who have thrown over 1500 innings and have a H/9 lower than 8.5:
  • Felix Hernandez
  • Justin Verlander
Hernandez has struck out 1264 batters and walked just 335 in 2009.  Here's a list of AL pitchers with at least 1200 strikeouts and fewer than 350 walks since 2009:
  • Felix Hernandez
Hernandez has given up just 85 home runs since 2009.  Here's a list of AL pitchers who have thrown over 1100 innings and allowed fewer than 100 home runs:
  • Felix Hernandez
His strikeout rate has improved in each of the last seven seasons.  His strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved in each of the last seven seasons.  I could go on and on and on and on and on...

Of course, none of this justifies his selection for the Cy Young in 2014, but I can back that up too!  He leads the AL in pitcher WAR.  He's second in ERA to Chris Sale (2.08 for Sale and 2.12 for Hernandez), but Felix has thrown almost 50 more innings.  He has started the most games in the AL, he's second in innings pitched, his strikeout and walk rates are 7th in the AL, he's 6th in K/BB ratio, his H/9 is 3rd, his HR/9 is 2nd, he's third in wins, 1st in winning percentage, and he has the lowest FIP. 

In summary:  he's good.


March Prediction - Mike Trout
Current Favorite - Mike Trout
New Prediction - Mike Trout, with one hand tied behind his back

While at the All-Star Game on Wednesday, a guy behind me (wearing a Tigers hat) said that Mike Trout was overrated.  I feel I reacted appropriately:

Seriously?  There's simply no way to make that claim without being the most jealous or moronic person on the planet.  Based on other things said during the game, I'm leaning toward moron.

When Miguel Cabrera won back-to-back MVP awards in 2012 and 2013, I would have selected Trout both times.  But, I would never have made the claim that Cabrera wasn't almost equally deserving.  In fact, in both years, I felt the race was extremely close and that either player was a good selection.  Even the biggest Cabrera fan on the planet has to admit that Mike Trout is anything but overrated. 

Unless Trout truly does tie his right hand behind his back, he's going to win his first MVP award in 2014.  The Angels appear to be a playoff team, so he can't get a bogus knock for that.  His numbers are outrageous and since he's been an outrageous player since his first game, there's no reason to think he'll slow down. 

Oddly enough, I distinctly remember people openly worrying about Trout this season.  On May 19, Trout was hitting "only" .263/.358/.509.  People were seriously wondering if a guy with an 870 OPS was starting to decline.  At age 22. 

Well, those days are gone.  He now leads the league in OPS+, total bases and WAR, the metric that we might just need to rename "Troutiness."  Trout leads baseball with a 5.5 fWAR (and rWAR for that matter).  Only four AL players are even in Trout's WAR stratosphere: 
This WAR dominance is despite the fact that his defense only rates as "average."  His offense is so dominant that he doesn't need defense to dominate this catch-all statistic.  Trout has produced 26 WAR since 2012, and I don't need to tell you that he's the leader in that category.  However, only two players (Robinson Cano and Andrew McCutchen) surpass 18 WAR over that span and neither of those guys reaches 20 WAR. 

In summary:  he's good too.

League Champion

March Prediction - Tampa Bay Rays
Current Favorite - Oakland Athletics
New Prediction - Oakland Athletics

Not all predictions are good.  I thought the Rays would ride their awesome pitching to a World Series in 2014.  I saw it as a last stand of sorts, with David Price likely being traded after the 2014 season.  I was wrong.  Matt Moore went down early, their young starters haven't quite put it together, their bullpen has been poor (especially with Grant Balfour's Australia-sized walk rate), and Evan Longoria is not the MVP candidate he typically is. 

That said, if their pitching can improve, they could get back in the race.  The AL East is kind of sucky and the Rays' pitchers appear to be the victims of some bad luck.  Even so, I'm hitching my wagon to the Oakland Athletics.

The A's have an MVP candidate in Josh Donaldson.  They have an excellent lineup with a manager who is willing to put his players in the best position to score runs and win games.  They have four starters who currently have an ERA+ better than 120.  They have three relievers who currently have an ERA under 2.15.  They might have the best closer in baseball, as Sean Doolittle currently has a strikeout-to-walk ratio over 30. 

The A's have the most balanced team in baseball and I think they win the AL and the World Series in 2014.  The AL West is a monster division, home to three realistic playoff teams, the AL MVP and AL CY Young winner.  It would be very fun to see the A's, Angels and Mariners all make the playoffs despite the fact that they have to play each other seemingly every other day.  That's all the predicting I can do right now; I hope you got your fill.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

National League Midseason Award Winners and Predictions

The MLB season has reached the fake mid-point that is not really a mid-point at all.  I attended the All-Star Game last night and had a wonderful time.  Who am I kidding, I'm writing this before the game.  I can't write something after the game, it will be like 1am when I get home.  Traffic!  Instead of writing about a very exciting event, here are some mid-season award winners/predictions for the National League!  I predicted these awards back in March, but I'll gladly change my predictions based on MORE DATA!!!!!!!

Rookie of the Year

March Prediction - Billy Hamilton
Current Favorite - Billy Hamilton
New Prediction - Bill Hamilton

I'm making just a slight change to my March prediction, assuming that Billy Hamilton will shorten his name to "Bill" by the end of the season.  That's exactly what happened when Billy Haywood was having a successful first season as a manager in Little Big League and we all know that life imitates art.

I thought Hamilton would literally run away with this award.  I assumed that he would rack up massive stolen base totals and they would overshadow his otherwise lackluster production.  I was half-right.  Hamilton has 38 stolen bases and 6 triples AND his overall production has been good.  Fangraphs has him at 3.2 WAR and his defense rates highly according to most measures.  He has been an above-average offensive player even without the stolen bases. 

Hamilton is figuratively running away with this award as well, as no other NL rookie is even close to his equal.  Chris Owings is having a good season, but cannot compare to Hamilton.  Unless Hamilton completely falls apart, he's already won this award in July.      

Cy Young Award

March Prediction - Stephen Strasburg
Current Favorite - Adam Wainwright
New Prediction - Clayton Kershaw

I have a blind spot that allows me to only see Stephen Strasburg as the pitcher from his MLB debut.  I will never forget that game and it continues to cloud my judgment.  Strasburg is a great pitcher, but choosing him over Kershaw was both silly and stupid.  Kershaw has proved that he is the best pitcher in baseball but I freaked out because he had a minor injury in March.  Kershaw recently threw 41 scoreless innings, staring at me the entire time.

Wainwright would win this award if the season ended right now.  Kershaw has been just as good, but Wainwright has pitched more.  By the end of the season, that won't matter as much and Kershaw will probably have an ERA under 1 and a full beard. 

Back to Strasburg, he is having a really great season.  His luck stats are unfortunate.  If those reverse, he could have a dominant second half.  If he does, I get to boast about being right in March, while quietly deleting this section.  I'll just pretend I got some ink on the Word doc and it can no longer be read.    


March Prediction - Andrew McCutchen
Current Favorite - Troy Tulowitzki
New Prediction - Andrew McCutchen

Tulowitzki is always an MVP candidate, he just can't stay healthy.  This season, he's played a lot of games and he's been ridiculously productive.  In fact, he's been the best player in the National League, providing great value on offense and in the field.  Of course, the Rockies are a terrible team and he has a pretty massive home-field advantage that shows up distinctly in his home/road splits. 

Andrew McCutchen has been nearly Tulowitzki's equal, but has a less striking (albeit still present) home/road disparity.  The Pirates are a pretty good team, and they seem to benefit from their superstar player.  If you had to bet on who would stay healthy for the rest of the season, you'd be a fool to choose Tulowitzki over McCutchen.  Although, I hope both stay completely healthy. 

If you prefer an MVP candidate from a playoff team, then Carlos Gomez is your guy.  I simply cannot believe that the same guy who used to swing at pitches that bounced is a legitimate MVP candidate just five years later.  Here we are.  Gomez has always had all the tools, but now he's utilizing them.  Carlos Gomez is one of the best players in baseball.  Read that again, Twins fans.  Now, please stop vomiting and crying.

I still lean McCutchen because I think he is the best player in the National League.  For me, MVP is the best player, and the word "valuable" was inserted by time travelers who wanted to instigate fights between writers and fans.  The gap between Tulowitzki and McCutchen has been slowly closing and McCutchen is too dynamic too be contained.       

League Champion

March Prediction - Los Angeles Dodgers
Current Favorite - Los Angeles Dodgers
New Prediction - Washington Nationals

Last year, I vowed to pick the Nationals every single year until they actually won the World Series.  I stayed true to that vow for exactly one year, abandoning them for the Dodgers in March.  Well, I'm back!  The Dodgers have been great so far, but the Nationals aren't far behind.  The Dodgers have great pitching, but so do the Nationals.  The Dodgers have had the better offense, but the Nationals haven't had Bryce Harper for the majority of the season.

Which brings me to the main reason behind my Nationals prediction:  I think Harper is going to absolutely explode in the second half.  Well, figuratively.  We've been hearing about his power and potential for so long, it seems like the time is right for his breakout.  Looking for a breakout is a bit unfair, considering he was a really great player last season.  However, he wasn't the player everyone expected, so he'll need to surpass being great to meet his lofty expectations.  I think he joins the elite in the second half.

With Harper exploding, Strasburg's luck improving (hopefully) and solid players everywhere else, I think the Nationals will reach the World Series in 2014.  I have returned to my Nationals Vow and it feels really good.  On Friday, I'll complete this same exercise in the American League.  Mike Trout.  Mike Trout Mike Trout.  Mike Trout, Mike Trout.  Mike Trout.  Mike Trout Mike Trout Mike Trout.  See you then!  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Morning Madness: July 14, 2014

Weekend Recap

Hey, two series wins in a row.  The Twins out-slugged the slugging Rockies over the weekend, pulling to within six games of .500 with a ten-game homestand on the other end of the All-Star Break.  They received a pretty balanced attack from their offense as just about every player contributed in some way.  The offense has been so poor recently, perhaps this is a glimpse of what is to come in the second half.  We can hope, right?

I'm starting to wonder if the Twins should hang on to Correia for the rest of the season.  With Ricky Nolasco out indefinitely, Sam Deduno better suited for the bullpen, Yohan Pino and Kris Johnson mediocre at best and Mike Pelfrey donated to Derek Jeter, the Twins might need Correia for the remainder of the season. 

This is counter to basically everything I have written about Correia this season, but I can't argue with his results over the last two months.  Since his poor start against Boston on May 14, Correia has made eleven very solid starts, posting a 3.22 ERA and averaging just over six innings per start.  It's easy to dismiss a couple good starts, but eleven?

Even if the Twins decide to promote Alex Meyer and Trevor May, they still have room for Correia.  When you consider that Meyer might pass his innings limit by September, Correia may be needed even if Nolasco returns in August.  I'm all for giving younger players opportunity, but I'm not convinced that Pino, Johnson or Logan Darnell can out-produce Correia for the remainder of 2014. 

Of course, my entire perspective changes if the Twins are offered a good prospect for Correia.  Then, I'll finally get my Yohan Pino shirsey.  Even with Correia's improved performance, I'm not sure that a team will offer a good prospect. 

Jared Burton

Burton's ERA is down to 4.82.  That's pretty good.  Since May 1, Burton has an ERA of 3.49 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 3.33.  He hasn't been dominant like he was in 2012, but he's been steady like he was in 2013.  I'm not on the "release Burton" bandwagon, as I think he might be the Twins' second most talented right-handed reliever on the roster.  Releasing Burton would hurt the bullpen, so the Twins should hang on to him.  I'd still like to see Michael Tonkin join the Twins very soon, but I don't feel Burton is the player to swap him out for. 

In 2013 and 2014, Willingham has batted .209/.347/.381, good for a 102 OPS+.  Willingham has been better in 2014, getting on base more and providing more power.  His batting average is insanely low, but his BABIP is freakishly low too.  His line drive rate is about four percentage points below his career-average and his ground ball rate is nearly nine percentage points below his average.  Willingham's bad luck is going to become the Twins' bad luck if they are serious about trading him. 

It would be fantastic if Willingham could receive some positive baseball karma.  He's been injured a lot recently, his luck stats are all going against him and he might get traded from a place that he really likes.  Hopefully, he'll start to get some good luck, mash for a few weeks, get traded to a contender for a good prospect and then win a World Series.  He seems like a legitimately good guy, so that would be the best-case scenario for all parties. 

Former Twin Update - Justin Morneau

We failed.  Morneau lost the Final Vote to Anthony Rizzo and will not be in the All-Star Game on Tuesday.  As a result, I ripped up my tickets, baked them into a cherry pie and fed it to anyone in Minnesota who voted against Morneau.  Congratulations!  The better player defeated the better story.  Whoopie!  By the way, morons, you still got it wrong.  If we were really going to take the best player, you got the wrong Anthony.  Anthony Rendon has been better than Rizzo. 

Regardless, Morneau was cool enough to compete in the Home Run Derby and hopefully he wins.  When he wins, I hope he melts down the trophy, bakes it into a cherry pie and feeds it to anyone in Minnesota who voted against him. 

Adieu Scott Diamond

The Twins released Scott Diamond over the weekend, ending his Twins career.  In a perfect world, he latches on with another team and puts together another MLB run.  It's shocking how quickly his career fell apart.  He was so good in 2012 but he couldn't sustain the one thing that he did at an elite level that season.  When Diamond was able to Maddux everyone, he was great.  When he was just simply "good" at limiting walks, he didn't have the same level of success.  Alas, 2012 was fun and we'll always remember his flash of dominance. 

Random Top Five List - Fewest First Half Walks

I am obsessed with Phil Hughes' ability to limit walks.  While he has been getting hit around a bit lately,  his elite walk rate should help him turn things around when the hits stop falling in.  Here are the top five fewest walks in a first half in Twins' history (minimum 75 innings pitched):

  1. Carlos Silva - 2005 - 5 walks
  2. Brad Radke - 2005 - 10 walks
  3. Brad Radke - 2004 - 10 walks
  4. Bob Tewksbury - 1998 - 11 walks
  5. Phil Hughes - 2014 - 11 walks
2005 - "The Year of the No Walk."  I have a way with words.

Baseball Card from the Past

This was my favorite baseball card as a kid.  I started collecting around 1988, when I was five or six.  I got the 1988 Topps complete set for Christmas and I opened it up and started sorting like a madman.  The fact that there were two Kirby Puckett cards in the set blew my mind.  I liked this card better because it was an All Star card.  I always wanted to get this specific card signed, which sadly did not happen.  However, I did accumulate about 25 copies of this card via trades, so at least I have a bunch of them somewhere. 

Futures Game Recap!

Can Jose Berrios start the first game after the All-Star Break?  Can he start every game?  Seriously, that inning was impressive.  It was one inning, but it was super impressive.  Alex Meyer was impressive as well and he might actually be ready for the Majors in the near future.  Before the 2013 season, the Twins had exactly zero impressive starting pitching prospects.  Now, they have Meyer, Berrios, Kohl Stewart, Lewis Thorpe and Trevor May.  Each seems likely to contribute and impress at some point in the future. 

This wasn't really a recap of the game, but the other players in the game aren't on my favorite team so I loathe them and hope their hair turns to snakes.  That is, unless the Twins trade for one of them, then I hope for reverse hair snakes.  Oh, Joey Gallo seems strong. 

All-Star Fan Fest Recap!

My wife, daughter and I went to Fan Fest on Saturday.  We arrived shortly before 7pm, right about when all the fun was beginning.  It was an impressive display.  There looked to be a lot of activities that a younger version of myself would have really enjoyed.  There were batting cages, fielding drills, men writing their names on things, etc.  My daughter isn't old enough to partake, although we did take her picture with the World's Largest Baseball.  My wife also went 3 for 3 at trivia kiosks and won a couple prizes.  She really wants me to give them away on the blog.  Maybe in a few years when they hold absolutely zero value. 

Celebrity Softball Game Recap!

Oh wait, I did not watch this.

Parting Thoughts

I am very excited for the All-Star Game on Tuesday.  I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to attend in person.  I have admitted in the past that the player intros are my favorite part, but if the game is exciting, I might enjoy the actual baseball just as much.  Even if the game isn't exciting, I'll be very happy that I shelled out hard-earned dollars for tickets.  It's the experience!

I am also excited that the Twins enter the break having won 5 of 6.  They might not make the playoffs in 2014, but they might play reasonably relevant games in September for the first time since 2010.  It's funny how low my standards have fallen, but what can you do?  Have a great week, everyone!