Monday, October 20, 2014

It's Raining 40-Men: Aaron Hicks

What's the word for when something is exactly the same as it was before, only you really hoped that it would be better or at least different but it wasn't and you're crying when I met you and then dying to forget you?  Aaronsmithing?  Aerohicksing?  I'll admit this paragraph makes no sense when you admit that you'd enjoy seeing Aaron Hicks perform in an Aerosmith cover band, but that only plays their 90s songs.  I don't want to miss that thing.

2014 Season Overview
The thing about disasters is that you generally can't have a second disaster.  A second disaster is just cruel.  Well, the first one is cruel too.  It's just ... look, I'm not trying to come off as pro-disaster.  Can we move on?

Aaron Hicks followed up a disastrous 2013 with another disastrous season in 2014.  He did improve his overall performance, but from an '87 Honda Odyssey to a '93 Toyota Corolla.  Is that an apt comparison?  I don't know cars.  If you're wondering why I'm writing about disasters, Aerosmith and cars instead of Hicks, it's because I'm exhausted.  I've defended Hicks just about as much as anyone and I'm not sure I can take another season of being his only champion.

2015 Role Projection
Since I'm exhausted, I'll just assume that Hicks is the starting center fielder once more, a position that he is unlikely to actually earn and seemingly equally unlikely to hold down for the whole 2015 season.  Hicks got on-base at a nice rate in 2014, but he provided less power than an old Honda Punto.  At least Hicks played relatively well in AAA.  Maybe he needs a full season there.  At age 25.  Approaching arbitration.  Bungled. 

2015 Season Prediction
This is the year!  Hicks has too much talent to fail three times.  He's going to get handed the center field job but that's fine, he's going to seize the unwarranted third opportunity and hold down the job until Byron Buxton is ready to seize the job from Hicks and hold it down until the end of time.  Hicks will put together the decent power he showed in 2013 with his solid OBP from 2014 and become a competent outfielder who can hit enough to move to a corner when Buxton arrives. 

Or, he won't.

A 90s Song for Aaron
Blind Melon - "Three is a Magic Number"

Long-Term Outlook
Hicks will be just 25 in 2015 and his performance has been so poor that an arbiter might rule that he actually owes the Twins money when he gets to that point.  The Twins are likely to be bad in 2015 and Hicks is still one of the more logical breakout candidates in 2015 because of his combination of talent and opportunity.  The Twins have just one real outfielder on their MLB roster going into 2015, so Hicks could easily make the team, harness his talent and become a long-term piece.  Well, not easily.  He's proved that twice already.

Is he a keeper?
I guess; why not?  The two bad seasons are done and gone.  Those seasons will be hard to forget, but I'm guessing everyone would forget it right around the time Hicks starts putting together a good season.  That's the thing with memories, they're short.  If Hicks can just be good in April, he'll change his story, possibly forever.  If he's bad in April?  Maybe Buxton will be ready.

Friday, October 10, 2014

It's Raining 40-Men: Lester Oliveros

Close your eyes...wait don't, you can't read with your eyes closed.  Imagine you're closing your eyes.  Now, imagine you're on vacation.  Say you're headed to Hawaii.  You are excited about the weather, the sights, the food, the beaches, the fun, the works.  However, there's still going to be a point in that vacation where you're doing something just because you have to.  For instance, waiting in line for your rental car.  Well, we're waiting for the rental car of the Twins' 40-man roster analysis vacation.

2014 Season Overview
Oliveros threw 6.1 innings for the Twins and managed a 7.11 ERA.  He gave up two home runs.  He did finish two games, so that's something.  1 home run per game finished.  HR/GF - sabermetrics 3.0.  Now, his FIP was 7.08, so he was better than his numbers might indicate.  In the Minors, Oliveros was excellent, posting a 1.64 ERA in 65.2 innings split between New Britain and Rochester.  He earned the right to teach us all about FIP v. ERA. 

2015 Role Projection
Well, I compared him to a rental car, so you could surmise that I'm not high on him.  To me, he seems like a fine AAA depth reliever and a guy you can call up when you're completely desperate for a player capable of having an arm. 

2015 Season Prediction
There's not much to predict for a player who likely won't matter much in the Twins' 2015 plans.  They can't possibly be relying on him or planning for his inclusion in the bullpen.  If they are, then things are more bleak than we even realize.  Nothing personal against Oliveros, but it's pretty clear that he's not a guy who even a decent team should be thinking of.  However, I'll guess that he has a very solid season in the Minors and forces another September call-up.  I'm not a Oliveros-hating monster. 

A 90s Song for Lester
Blur - "This is a Low"

Long-Term Outlook
He's been good in the Minors before, but he has an ERA over 5 in his brief MLB career.  He was also the player to be named later in the Delmon Young trade, so it's clear the Tigers valued him greatly and the Twins wanted him desperately.  I'd say his long-term outlook is good because he plays baseball for a living, but not great as a person who makes a living playing baseball.  If that makes sense.

Is he a keeper?
As a guy who will likely never reach arbitration, sure why not?  Like I already stated, he can serve as decent AAA depth and he'll likely only play for the Twins if everyone important is injured, the Twins are terrible in September, or if they change the rules of baseball so that teams try to give up the most runs.  One of those is likely, one of those is pessimistic and one of those is just a glimmer in the eye of future commissioner Joe Mays

This is too negative.  Look at his Minor League numbers.  It's conceivable that he could have a decent career as a reliever in the Majors. He strikes out a lot of batters, he doesn't walk a ton and he's never gotten a consistent chance in the Majors.  In fact, with the success of the Eddie 400, perhaps it might be time for the Lester 50?  I'll kick it around.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

It's Raining 40-Men: Mike Pelfrey

YEEEEEEEAHHHhh!  Remember this dude?  He's the who wants to eat your soul in the Twins' barbershop commercial.  Here's a refresher:

More importantly, Mike Pelfrey is the guy the Twins paid over $1 million per start in 2014.  Not ideal, but what if they were truly amazing starts? 

2014 Season Overview
They weren't.  After spending most of 2013 wandering around the pitching mound, Pelfrey was re-signed to a two-year deal for 2014 and 2015.  He earned this contract based on...probably...height?  Pelfrey is really tall, no one can dispute that.  Pelfrey was slotted as the Twins' fourth starter out of Spring Training.  He threw 23.2 innings in those five previously mentioned starts, posting a 7.99 ERA, 1.983 WHIP and 0.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Despite these numbers, the Twins placed Pelfrey on the disabled list on May 2, instead of completely moving all of the team's operations to hide from him as I had advocated for.  Pelfrey never got healthy and didn't pitch after May 1.  Pelfrey has currently made $9.5 million from the Twins and rewarded them with a 5.56 ERA in 34 starts.  He's averaged just a hair over 5 innings per start as a Twin, revealing his true value to the team:  bullpen-practice helper. 

2015 Role Projection
Blerg, probably in the rotation because he's under contract.  In a just world - some sort of baseball scarecrow. 

2015 Season Prediction
Any positive prediction for Pelfrey is completely illogical.  Since 2011, Pelfrey has an ERA of 4.99.  He can't go deep into games, he slows down the game, he licks his lips constantly, he's not young and he doesn't have upside. 


So, it's not all bad. 

A 90s Song for Mike
Pearl Jam - "Release"

Long-Term Outlook
I think his long-term outlook is pretty great.  He's only 31 and he had a 3.66 ERA in 2010.  That may seem like ages ago, but remember how Nick Blackburn pitched in that one game 163?  That bought him like 3 extra years, and he was mostly healthy.  Pelfrey had a full season of good games back in 2010 and he's barely gotten a chance with the Twins due to injury rehab and then injuries.  There are still people who probably think Blackburn didn't get a fair shot, so Pelfrey is likely to get a fair chance in 2015. 

Since Pelfrey's performance has yet to be a reason to get rid of him, I can only imagine he'll get another contract after the 2015 season.  He's earned it, right?  Perhaps he becomes a Twin for life, one day becoming the pitching coach, then the manager, then the general manager and then the owner, eventually holding all of those titles concurrently. 

The more likely scenario involves the Twins releasing Pelfrey at the end of Spring Training, Pelfrey signing with the Pirates, Pelfrey throwing one good game for the Pirates and the entire Twins Facebook page spontaneously bursting into flames. 

Is he a keeper?
Define keeper.  Could he provide some surprise value in 2015?  I suppose it's possible.  Perhaps his injuries really held him down in 2013 and 2014.  Perhaps when fully healthy, he can be a serviceable back-end starter.  $5.5 million isn't a crazy price for a back-end starter and Pelfrey was good back in 2010 (remember).  The money is a sunk cost and any value would be a big surprise.  That's the best way to spend $11 million - to explain the concept of sunk cost to a fan base. 

If he's bad and then re-signed for 2016, we'll know that the Twins are just trolling the daylights out of us.  So, at least we'll have that knowledge.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

It's Raining 40-Men: Oswaldo Arcia

Oswaldo Arcia led the Twins in outrageous swings, wacky outfield plays and amazing hair.  He also improved as a hitter in 2014 and he appears to have the potential to be a cornerstone offensive player.  He is currently a man without a real position, as he has not shown the ability to be a reliable outfielder and he hasn't hit enough to be the long-term DH.  Can Arcia harness his talent or will his Billy Mumphrey-esque unbridled enthusiasm be his ultimate downfall?

2014 Season Overview
Arcia was up and down in 2014.  He batted .231/.300/.452.  His batting average dropped about twenty points from 2013 and his OBP dropped about five points.  Arcia also continues to rate as one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball and the eye-test would confirm that data.  He struck out at a very high rate and some of his swings can be described kindly as "adorable" and "aggressive" or harshly as "wild" and "uncontrolled."  

But man, that .452 slugging percentage!  Arcia has power.  He hit 20 home runs in 410 plate appearances, a roughly 30-home run pace over a full season.  His power is more impressive within the context of his age.  Since 1995, only 75 players have slugged over .450 at age 23 or younger.  Last season, only five non-Arcia players 23 and under slugged like Arcia:  Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, Nolan Arenado, Marcell Ozuna and...Danny Santana!  Santana isn't a power hitter, but the other four could be described that way.  So can Arcia.  He's got the potential for elite power and he's already flexing it as a very young man. 

2015 Role Projection
Right Field - Starter - Heart of the Order

2015 Season Prediction
I'm about as bullish on Arcia as one can be.  I see a blossoming star and a potential emotional leader in the dugout.  Arcia is about as exciting a Twins player as we've had in recent memory.  He's wild, exciting, sometimes careless and generally carefree.  I predicted 55 extra-base hits for Arcia in 2014 and I'll make that same prediction for 2015.  I might even push it to 60. 

Arcia will be entering his third season, he should be an unquestioned starter and he's just a lot of fun to watch.  That might be qualitative data, but I'm still going to use it.   His defense...will be fun when the Twins are winning.    

A 90s Song for Oswaldo
R.E.M. - "King of Comedy"

Long-Term Outlook
It's great.  It's relatively safe to say that Arcia will never hit .300 in the Majors.  He doesn't make contact like a .300 hitter.  He also is unlikely to be an elite OBP-guy, as he does like to swing.  However, he should continue to grow in those areas as he matures and his power will keep pitchers from giving him too much to hit.  I think Arcia is a major breakout candidate in 2015 and he could be a fixture in the Twins' lineup for a very long time. 

Is he a keeper?
Oh goodness, yes.  Arcia might be one of those guys who you curse in the 3rd inning when he misplays a ball in right, but then you cheer wildly for and cut your hair like when he hits a walk-off home run in the ninth.  He's going to be a rollercoaster of a player until he fully matures.  At his peak, I think Arcia could be a .280/.370/.500 hitter who absolutely fits the profile of a traditional #3 hitter.  Giving up on Arcia at 23 because he plays like a 23-year-old would be completely unwise. 

I love him.

Monday, October 6, 2014

It's Raining 40-Men: Joe Mauer

No player on the Twins is more famous than Joe Mauer.  No player is scrutinized and criticized like Mauer, but no player cashes bigger checks either.  In terms of dollars, not size.  I like to think that Oswaldo Arcia gets paid in giant novelty checks.  Was 2014 kind to Joe Mauer?

2014 Season Overview
No, 2014 was not kind to Joe Mauer.  What would be the opposite of smooth?  If only there were a book that could tell me such things.  Mauer made the transition from elite offensive catcher to Lyle Overbay in 2014.  Unfortunately, because of his contract, he needs to be referred to as Lyle Overpaidbay.  Mauer finished the season with a .277/.361/.371 batting line, 4 home runs, 55 RBI and countless people questioning his value, manhood and soul.  No, 2014 was not kind to Mr. Mauer. 

Mauer did start to show signs of the "old Mauer" near the end of the season.  When Mauer went on the disabled list with an oblique injury in early July, he was batting .270/.342/.350.  That's not as awful as you would be led to believe, but it certainly was not the level of production we had come to expect from such a talented player. 

Things got somewhat better in the second half.  Starting with his return from that oblique injury on August 11, he batted .289/.397/.408 to finish the season and he was even better in September at .305/.406/.390.  The lack of power is not cool, but if Mauer can hit some combo of .300/.400/.XXX in 2015, I'd take it. 

2015 Role Projection
First Base - Starter - Top of the Lineup

2015 Season Prediction
I anticipate that Mauer will perform more like he did in August and September rather than how he performed in the first half of the season.  I think he'll hit for slightly more power and he'll return to a .400 OBP-guy.  I also think his defense will be improved and he'll basically be Mauer-lite, exactly what we should expect from a guy in the decline phase of his career.  I also think it's safe to say that he'll never post a .324/.404/.476 batting line like he did in 2013. 

The real question is - will the new Twins manager have the insight and stones to bat Mauer in the leadoff spot?  Really, that's Mauer's best spot based on his talent, approach and production.  I predict that veteran-ness will trump logic and Mauer will remain in the middle of the order.

A 90s Song for Joe
Alice in Chains - "Love, Hate, Love"

Long-Term Outlook
Mauer will be 32 in 2015 and he's not going to change his approach.  Mauer isn't going to add power and he isn't going to stop poking the ball the other way for singles.  The hand-wringing is likely to continue for four more seasons.  If you want to yell about what Mauer doesn't do, you're going to be quite hoarse. 

Why not focus on what he can do?  OBP and walk rate tend to stay stable as players age and Mauer had an elite OBP prior to 2014.  If those skills are still present, and his second half indicates they are, he can still be a good offensive player through his current contract and possibly a little longer.

Is he a keeper?
I don't think it's really a question worth asking.  You can't get good value in a trade for Mauer and he's still good enough to be a productive player.  Even in a very down year, he posted a 107 OPS+.  That's terrible production for his contract, but it's still 7% better than the average player.  His OPS+ was above 130 in August and September.  That would be much more acceptable. 

Mauer is almost certainly going to be overpaid for the next four seasons, but that's a sunk cost.  Mauer is a keeper and unless you trust one season (and really, one half-season) over a ten-year career, it seems reasonable to think that he'll bounce back to a moderate extent.