Saturday, November 30, 2013

Phil Hughes signs with the Minnesota Twins

Where were you when the Twins became a completely different franchise?  In the last 72 hours or so, the Twins have doled out $73 million in long-term contracts, surpassing their previous off-season record by nearly $300 billion dollars (if you believe some fans).  On Wednesday, the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco to a four-year deal, and tonight, they added former Yankee Phil Hughes to an increasingly (and suddenly) talented starting rotation.  Hughes will earn $8 million for the next three seasons, earning a longer contract than many experts had predicted. 

The Twins have to bank on a change of scenery transforming Hughes into a completely different pitcher.  Over the course of his career, Hughes has been an extreme fly ball pitcher in a park that is probably smaller than the park in your neighborhood.  As such, he has been very home run-prone, averaging 1.29 home runs per nine innings in his career.  The move to Target Field could help suppress those home runs. 

Park Factor stats compare the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road.  For home runs in 2013, Yankee Stadium had a 9th-best HR Park Factor of 1.128, greatly favoring hitters.  The HR Park Factor at Target Field in 2013 was 0.802, 27th in the league.  The great thing about this normalized stat is that it takes out the types of players each team has, so the fact that the Twins don't hit a lot of home runs as a team is factored in.  This seems to indicate that Hughes' biggest bug-a-boo could be neutralized to some extent.  Although, extreme fly ball pitchers will always be somewhat more home run-prone, by definition.

Hughes might be classified incorrectly as a strikeout pitcher.  His career rate of 19.7% is slightly above average, but also just slightly higher than Scott Baker's 19.1% rate.  That said, Hughes does throw hard.  He consistently sits 92-93 with his fastball and can touch 95.  He has a low-80s slider that he has developed over the years and uses as an out pitch.  He had a 31.3% strikeout rate with that pitch in 2013.  His fastball was crushed for a .917 OPS last season, but the home ballpark change and crazy high fastball BABIP of .337 would point toward improvement with that pitch in coming years. 

His split stats are encouraging as well.  He doesn't really have a noticeable platoon split, as his career OPS against lefties is .760 and his career OPS against righties is .743.  His walk rate and strikeout rate are better against righties, although his rates against lefties are not bad either.  He actually allows home runs at a higher rate against right-handed batters, which you might not have guessed.  Moving to Target Field won't help that final rate much, but the rest of the stats are encouraging.    

His home/road splits really catch the eye.  His career ERA at home is 4.96 and his career ERA on the road is 4.10.  At home versus lefties, he surrenders a .831 OPS, basically equivalent to facing Hunter Pence in every at-bat.  In contrast, lefties had an OPS of just .681 on the road, or an entire lineup of Brandon Crawfords.  Against righties, Hughes gave up an OPS of .781 at home and an OPS of .700 on the road.  All of these splits were even worse last year, and he still had an xFIP of 4.35.  Target Field won't fix everything, but New Yankee Stadium was not doing Hughes any favors.

Hughes will always give up his share of home runs.  All fly ball pitchers do.  However, with his good strikeout rate, better-than-good walk rate, and good raw stuff, it is conceivable that Hughes could greatly improve his performance with the Twins.  Add in the fact that he'll be just 30 when this very reasonable contract ends, and you get a shark move from a GM who has never been described as any sort of vicious predator animal.     

In my free agent starting pitcher preview, I wrote the following: 

Who will the Twins actually sign?  I have no clue.  I hope they are shockingly active.  I'd love to see Garza, Johnson and Arroyo on this team next year.  How wild would that be?  Terry Ryan shows up at Spring Training with an earring.  He starts calling everyone "playa."  Constant Finger Guns.  It would be amazing.  Make it happen, TR.

I had the wrong names, but the level of activity matches.  I hope the Twins beat writers can get used to being called "playa."  Blow the smoke off those finger guns, TR.  In fact, why not reload those babies and sign a catcher next?  Why stop there?  Bronson Arroyo is still available.  Scott Kazmir isn't going to get a larger deal than Hughes and the Twins still have money to spend.  If that happens, you can expect to see Terry Ryan in a leather jacket all summer long, no matter how hot it gets.  Ray-Bans too.

Personally, I'm basking in the glow of a Twins team that is actually committed to getting better.  I'm getting excited to an uncontrollable point.  You can analyze the talent of Nolasco and Hughes until sundown.  In fact, both guys might completely flame out next year.  What you can't say any longer is that the Twins won't spend money to win baseball games.  They just sunk $73 million into the rotation and greatly improved the team in the process.  I'm starting to think this team could win 75-80 games next year.  I need to sit down.  Wait, I am sitting down.  I need to lie down.  It's all just too exciting.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Why I am thankful for the Minnesota Twins this year

With Thanksgiving come and gone, I wanted to share some Twins-related items that I am thankful for.  With back-to-back-to-back terrible seasons in the books, it can be very easy to dwell on the negatives.  I think there are still plenty of reasons to be positive about our favorite team. 

I'm thankful for the off-season.  No matter how poor the season, the off-season comes with promise and excitement.  The Twins have one of the worst starting rotations in all of baseball, but in the off-season, there are tons of names available.  The Twins already signed Ricky Nolasco.  Maybe they'll add Matt Garza too.  They could trade for Homer Bailey or David Price.  They could announce that Alex Meyer will be in the rotation next year.  The possibilities are endless, regardless of how realistic they are.  In the off-season, hope is King.  I love it.

I am thankful for Joe Mauer's health.  Now, I don't know that he will remain healthy, but if he is symptom-free right now, I'm thankful.  Mauer's move to first base was analyzed with a microscope, but in my opinion, a good hitter is a good hitter at first base too.  Mauer might not hit a lot of home runs, but he provides overall power and makes outs at one of the lowest rates in this generation.  In a game where outs are the clock, staying safe is very valuable.  More importantly, if moving to first base saves Mauer from even one future concussion, it's more than worth it for fans and for Mauer's life-long health.   

I am thankful for Kevin Correia.  Yeah, that's right.  The much-maligned Correia did exactly what he's always done.  Correia took the ball when it was his turn and he gave the Twins valuable innings.  Some of those innings fell apart quickly, but still.  He gave the team 185 innings, which were innings not pitched by the likes of Pedro Hernandez and P.J. Walters.  I expect more of the same from Correia in 2014 and in the end, his contract won't look that bad.  The Twins might even consider him for 2015. 

I am thankful for the boatload of prospects that the Twins have right now.  Baseball Prospectus released their Twins' top 10 last week and did so to much fanfare.  Jason Parks of BP stated that the Twins have the best farm system in baseball and that their 11-20 might be better than some franchises' top 10.  Wowzers.  I am thankful for the fact that I will get to watch Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer, Eddie Rosario, Kohl Stewart and many more.  We might just get to watch them soon too.  Very exciting. 

I am thankful for the off-season once more.  In the off-season, we can hope that we get rebound performances from Vance Worley, Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson in 2014.  They aren't playing right now, so we can't get any negative reports.  All we can do is wait to see how they emerge next season.  If the Twins get positive contributions from two of those players, the 2014 season could be surprisingly good.  If they get positive contributions from all three?  Wowzers #2.  In the off-season, we can dream.

I rarely ask for comments anymore, but please share what you are thankful for in the comments below.  I would love for everyone to see the many reasons why being a baseball fan in Minnesota is still a wonderful thing.  I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ricky Nolasco signs with the Minnesota Twins: Wait, what?

Well, well, well, it looks like the Twins are serious about improving their team!  They came to terms with Ricky Nolasco and he instantly becomes the Twins' best starting pitcher since probably Johan Santana.  The terms of the deal aren't currently known.  Nolasco is an eight-year veteran, with all but part of 2013 spent with the Florida/Miami Marlins.  Nolasco is a 6' 2" righty who relies on a couple of fastballs that top out around 93-94 MPH and an effective slider that he uses as an out pitch.  Nolasco is a career 89-75 pitcher with a 4.37 career ERA.  Since becoming a full-time starter in 2008, he has averaged 192 innings per season and has a 3.77 K:BB ratio. 

Now that we know who this new Twin is, should be we excited?

I say yes.  I had Nolasco rated as the third best starting pitching target for the Twins this off-season.  I originally had him much lower, based solely on his reputation.  As I dug into his stats more and more and compared him to more expensive options like Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, I started to see the value in Nolasco, even at a fairly high cost. 

Nolasco has great control, with a 5.5% career walk rate.  In fact, he's one of the best active control pitchers, as he's tied for 10th among active starters with at least 500 innings pitched.  His strikeout rate is just above 19% although that figure has dipped a bit in recent years.  His career ERA is 4.37, but his career xFIP is 3.75.  His diminishing strikeout rate would be a concern, but he's still roughly league-average and he's traded strikeouts for ground balls.  His GB rate sits more in the 45% range, opposed to the 38% range from earlier in his career. 

Nolasco was tremendous in 2008, looking like a future ace at the age of 25.  His career hasn't progressed that way.  In 2008, Nolasco threw 212.1 innings, posted a 3.52 ERA with a 186:42 K:BB ratio.  He topped that strikeout figure in 2009 (195), but saw his ERA jump all the way to 5.06.  His ERA has slowly trended downward, hitting 3.70 in 2013.  He's changed a bit as a pitcher over the years, but it seems he may have figured out the right formula in 2013. 

I put his last 5 seasons into a chart, for easy consumption:

Career Avg

I threw in his average fastball velocity as he has seen a very slight decrease over the years.  However, the trade-off between strikeouts and ground balls should offset that decrease slightly.  Just looking at the chart, Nolasco seems to have either noticed his dip in velocity or had it pointed out to him, and he started to transition from a strikeout/fly ball pitcher to a more balanced, more ground ball-focused pitcher.  This doesn't mean that he is "pitch to contact" as he posted a strikeout rate ever so slightly above National League average (19.8% to the average of 19.7%).  When you consider his elite walk rate, there is hope that the Twins have landed a consistently good pitcher just hitting his stride. 

The most encouraging part of that chart is that his 2013 season was not some crazy fluke.  His rates were basically all right in line with his career rates.  His strand rate and BABIPs were normal.  His velocity and strikeout rates were normal.  It just looks like he finally put everything together after four years of under-performing compared to his peripheral stats.  At just 31, he could be productive throughout the life of the deal (again, terms unknown).  This all assumes health, but that's pretty much the case with every pitcher that has ever lived. 

Some will point out that Nolasco was just a 4th starter on the Dodgers.  To me, this is playing very fast and loose with the Number X starter label.  The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, which means that just about every pitcher on the planet is a 3rd starter at best on the Dodgers.  Hyun-Jin Ryu was very good last season, but his xFIP (3.46) wasn't far off of Nolasco's while with the Dodgers (3.51).  You could argue they were 3a and 3b (at least until the playoffs, but that's a different story). 

The Twins aren't the Dodgers.  The Twins don't have anyone close to Kershaw, Greinke or even Ryu.  At least, they didn't until they signed Nolasco.  You can't look at Nolasco and be upset that the Twins didn't get an "ace."  I prefer to think of this signing in two ways.  His innings will basically replace those of the garbage amalgamation of Pedro Hernandez, Kyle Gibson and Vance Worley in 2013.  That hideous monster posted an ERA around 7 and only managed about 150 innings in 32 consistently disastrous starts.  If you don't agree with that thinking, consider Nolasco a direct replacement for Mike Pelfrey and his 5.19 ERA in 29 starts (152.2 innings).  If nothing else, we can hope Nolasco's signings bring an end to the two-year contract rumors we keep hearing about Pelfrey.

Does Ricky Nolasco make the Twins a contender?  Come on, be reasonable.  Nolasco is a fine pitcher, but not a game-changer.  If Nolasco is the only significant starter signed this off-season, I'd still consider the off-season a success.  The Twins spent money on a free agent!  We've been begging them to do that for years.  Plus, he's a good one.  The fact is, the Twins are not a marquee franchise and the team has been bad for 3 straight seasons.  The Twins can want to sign free agents all they want, but the player has to agree to come here.  Nolasco did and hopefully he brings some of his starting pitching friends with him. 

As it stands right now, the rotation for 2014 could look something like this:

Ricky Nolasco
Kyle Gibson

Honestly, I think that rotation combined with a good bullpen and potentially good offense has the potential to win 70-75 games.  If the Twins can add another player at or above Nolasco's level, or a couple of guys just below, then who knows?  I know I'm excited right now and I know that the Twins are better than they were yesterday.  Isn't that the point of free agency?

Update - the contract terms have been announced.  4 years, $49 million guaranteed.  5th year option at $13 million that vests based on innings incentive in 2016 and 2017.  $1 mil buyout on that fifth year.  Very reasonable, plenty of room to sign more free agents as a result.  Nolasco has been worth just under $48 million over the past four years, according to Fangraphs.  Nice work, Twins!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Minnesota Twins Starting Pitching Trade Targets: Worley Division Part II

Yesterday, I outlined six starting pitchers who I think the Twins should target in an effort to boost their rotation.  If you missed it, you can find it here.  I am focusing on pitchers who are far from free agency, but maybe not household names.  I want to find another Vance Worley, but this time, I'd like for it to work out a bit better.  Instead of a flood of sadness, perhaps a geyser of effective innings?

My one question to myself was why would teams give up these valuable players?  It's not like they don't have idiots checking Fangraphs for walk and ground ball rates too.  They know what xFIPs are.  However, the Phillies traded Vance Worley just one year ago.  While we all know how that turned out, it could have worked out nicely for the Twins.  I mean, Worley had an excellent rookie season in 2011.  He regressed a bit in 2012, but fought injuries too.  He was just 25 and years from free agency.   There was still reason to think he would be an effective pitcher going forward.  He certainly wasn't in 2013, although he could still bounce back. 

The Vance Worley trade looks like a failure because of how he (and Trevor May to an extent) performed, but the idea wasn't a bad one.  Find a good, but not dominant starter and add him to the back of the rotation cheaply.  Moves like those free the team up for hypothetical free agent signings and blockbuster trades that aren't likely to happen 'round these parts.  We can dream though.

Anyway, I have six more players who I think fit that Worley archetype.  Would you like to see them? 

Ivan Nova - New York Yankees - Age 27 in 2014, Free Agent in 2017

Nova probably seems like an odd inclusion.  You don't have to dig to find out why he's good, he was just good in 2013.  His 3.10 ERA was better than his 3.68 xFIP, so it's not like there's some great hidden value that some dork on Fangraphs can unearth.  To explain his inclusion, I'll create a narrative.  I just think Nova's a fine pitcher and I'm not sure a fine pitcher is right for the Yankees.  The Yankees want stars, not values.  They want CC Sabathias not Ivan Novas.  Don't get me wrong, they'll use Ivan Novas, but they prefer to have BIG STAR names instead.  Nova is a good pitcher.  His ground ball rate is outstanding, he limits walks and his strikeout rate is good, although not great.  The Twins would properly appreciate his value.  End narrative.

Wily Peralta - Milwaukee Brewers - Age 25 in 2014, Free Agent in 2019

When the Brewers signed Kyle Lohse right before last season, I posited that Peralta might become available via trade.  I was completely wrong, but maybe the right deal didn't come along.  Peralta's youth and upside would make him a more expensive trade target.  His talent is so great that it might be worth paying a slight premium to acquire him.  Peralta throws hard (94-95) but it hasn't translated to MLB strikeouts just yet (16.1% K rate in 2013).  His walk rate is not high, but higher than I'd like (9.1%).  His ground ball rate is nice though (51%).  With some natural development, Peralta could still reach his lofty prospect ceiling.  Right now, he's a number 4 or 5, but he could become a 3 and maybe even a 2.  1 to watch.

David Phelps - New York Yankees - Age 27 in 2014, Free Agent in 2019

Back to the Big Apple!  Phelps has shuffled between the Yankee rotation and bullpen over the past two seasons.  As a reliever, he racks up strikeouts, with a 28% rate in 2013.  As a starter, his K rate drops almost ten points, but still hovers around league-average.  His walk rate actually dipped as a starter too.  Phelps is a fly ball pitcher and we all know that left-handed power is suppressed at Target Field.  His 2013 ERA was just under five, but his xFIP was just over four.  He was lucky with HR/FB ratio, but had some bad luck with strand rate and BABIP.  In all, Phelps could be a reliable 4th or 5th starter and I can't imagine he would cost much in return.    

Todd Redmond - Toronto Blue Jays - Age 29 in 2014, Free Agent in 2020

Redmond might be a one-year wonder, but his 2013 season was a quiet breakout campaign.  Redmond basically spent all of 2009-2012 in AAA with Atlanta and Cincinnati.  The Blue Jays had some injury issues in their rotation, so Redmond got his chance.  He made 14 starts for the Blue Jays and posted a decent 4.32 ERA.  His xFIP of 4.16 nearly matches, so you can basically believe what you see on the surface.  Redmond's primary pitch is his sinker, but he has extreme fly ball tendencies.  Very odd.  Redmond gave up a lot of home runs last season, but his strikeout and walk rates were both very good and right in line with how he pitched in AAA for all those years.  The Twins have had luck with sinkerballers in the past, and if Redmond becomes available again (he was waived twice last year), he could be a decent fifth starter for a few years.  Just don't give him a Blackburn contract.

Esmil Rogers - Toronto Blue Jays - Age 28 in 2014, Free Agent in 2017

BACK TO BACK BLUE JAYS!  Canada is cool.  Rogers throws hard, with a fastball sitting 93-94.  His ERA in 2013 was a poor 4.77, but his xFIP was an acceptable 4.06.  Rogers split his season between the bullpen and rotation and actually saw his strikeout rate jump when starting (17.4% to 11.3%) although he generally struck out more batters as a reliever in the past.  Rogers gets enough ground balls and was a little unlucky with home runs last season.  Rogers isn't going to be anything more than a 4th or 5th starter, but he could fill that role very cheaply.  If nothing else, he could be Anthony Swarzak's replacement in long relief when Swarzak starts next year.  Right?

Nick Tepesch - Texas Rangers - Age 25 in 2014, Free Agent in 2019

I'm fond of Tepesch.  In 2013, Tepesch was an early Rookie of the Year candidate, before fading hard in June and July.  He ended the season with 17 starts, an ERA of 4.84 and an xFIP of 3.82.  Tepesch is triple good - good strikeout rate, good walk rate, good ground ball rate.  He's a sinker/slider pitcher who works around 90-91.  Tepesch's slider is excellent, but his sinker and fastball were very hittable in 2013.  He's just 25, but he projects to be the Rangers' sixth starter at best, possibly lower considering they just signed Colby Lewis.  The Rangers could use a LF/DH kind of guy and the Twins have this Josh Willingham dude who they should really be considering shopping around.  It's just an idea, but Tepesch isn't bad return for a 35-year-old, soon-to-be-free agent coming of an injury-plagued season. 

That's my list, what do you think?  Obviously some of these guys are more impressive than others.  If the Twins just exchange Mike Pelfrey for Esmil Rogers in the 2014 rotation, fans should rightfully picket Target Field and post snarky  (but not clever) comments on the Twins' Facebook page.  However, if the Twins could possibly land a big free agent like Matt Garza and then make a trade for someone like Dallas Keuchel, the rotation could be pretty decent for a good while.  I'm finding it hard to believe the Twins will sign a big free agent, do you really think they'll sign two or more? 

All teams need 4th and 5th starters.  Kevin Correia is the only Twins pitcher who I would consider a reliable 4th or 5th starter.  Unfortunately, he's masquerading as their Ace.  Adding to the back of the rotation is not exciting, but it helps win games.  If Correia was the Twins' 4th best starter, the rotation could be pretty good.  The 2000s Twins had some unsexy, but reliable starters at the back of their rotations.  The 12 guys I outlined won't help transform the team, but they are good supplements.  Some could be even better.  I support exploring all avenues.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Minnesota Twins Starting Pitching Trade Targets: Worley Division Part I

In my never-ending quest to build my hopes up about the Twins' activity level this off-season, I have been writing about free agent targets and high-end starting pitching trade targets over the last few weeks.  The Twins have never signed a free agent to a huge deal and tend to deal in smaller trades or trades for high-end prospects.  The more recent Twins trades for MLB pitching have netted players like Carl Pavano and Vance Worley. 

I have identified some players who I think profile similarly to pre-2013 Worley, but hopefully can perform more like 2009-10 Pavano.  Each of these players is some positive combination of young, far from free agency and talented, although each to varying degrees.  Before you jump to the conclusion that I feel it is ok for the Twins to settle for lesser players, just know that I do not feel that way at all.  I think the players on this list are talented, can be acquired reasonably (without giving up a top 10 prospect or Glen Perkins) and could perform as a 3rd or 4th starter for many years. 

There is something wrong with all of these guys, and that is why they aren't as expensive and untouchable as say, Julio Teheran or Gerrit Cole.  However, there is enough to like that the Twins could really see solid value if they seek out one or more of these players. 

Felix Doubront - Boston Red Sox - Age 26 in 2014, Free Agent in 2018

Certainly not my favorite name on this list, Doubront could have some hidden value.  He throws in the low 90s but strikes out batters at an above league-average rate.  His ground ball rate is just above league-average as well.  His walk rate is somewhat worrisome, at just over 10% in his past two seasons.  I would trust the Twins to work with Doubront on his control and if he can get that rate down around 8%, I think he could be a reliable 4th or 5th starter with a little upside. 

Marco Estrada - Milwaukee Brewers - Age 30 in 2014, Free Agent in 2016

Estrada is the oldest and closest to free agency on my list, but his durability issues could play in the Twins favor if they wanted to pursue him.  He only throws in the 88-90 MPH range, but he gets strikeouts behind a filthy changeup.  Batters had a 33 OPS+ against that change and Estrada posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of about 10 when using that pitch.  His strikeout rate is legit and his walk rate is even better.  He's only thrown 266.1 innings the past two seasons, so there are reasons why the Brewers might not want to rely on him.  133 innings in a season would be a freaking Twins record at this point, so they'd be happy to take a flier. 

A.J. Griffin - Oakland Athletics - Age 26 in 2014, Free Agent in 2019

Griffin was really good last year, but the A's aren't shy about turning an aging (relative term) starter into a mess of prospects.  Griffin threw 200 innings and boasted a solid strikeout rate and better than solid walk rate.  He is an extreme fly ball pitcher, but from the right side, his fly ball tendencies could play well at Target Field.  Griffin holds runners extremely well, with a career strand rate just shy of 80%.  Griffin has a filthy curve ball, which hitters basically couldn't hit at all in 2013.  He threw it just over 500 times and hitters had an OPS+ of 6.  Six!  Griffin has out-performed his peripherals in his short career.  If he can balance out his ground ball/fly ball ratio just a bit, he could turn into a very solid and consistent number 3 starter. 

Jeremy Hefner - New York Mets - Age 28 in 2014, Free Agent in 2019

Hefner isn't very exciting, I have to admit.  His strikeout rate is just ok and his walk rate isn't much better.  His ground ball rate is fine.  There are a lot of oks and fines in that description, and perhaps trading for someone like that isn't what fans really want.  Hefner also averaged just slightly over five innings per start in 2013.  He did improve from 2012 to 2013 and he could continue to develop into a number 4 or 5 starter.  Hefner is the definition of "nothing special."  That said, "nothing special" is better than "tornado of suck" and that's what Twins fans have been witnessing the past few seasons. 

Dallas Keuchel - Houston Astros - Age 26 in 2014, Free Agent in 2019

5.15 ERA in 2013?  Only throws in the high 80s?  Houston Astro?  Yep, Keuchel is all of those things and I still think he would be a good target.  Keuchel's 2013 xFIP of 3.58 is impressive.  His strikeout rate isn't dominant and neither is his walk rate, as each is slightly below league-average.  However, his ground ball rate of 55.8% and BABIP of .340 in 2013 points toward some upside/positive regression.  Houston seems to still be in the process of a rebuild, and Keuchel could be made available for a prospect package.  He's not good enough to attract a great prospect and the Twins have crazy depth in their system with plenty of decent prospects to offer.  His upside seems to be a better version of Scott Diamond, which the Twins could certainly use for the next six seasons. 

Lance Lynn - St. Louis Cardinals - Age 27 in 2014, Free Agent in 2018

Lynn might be a pipe dream.  He throws hard, racks up strikeouts and he's been an effective starter for a really good organization.  However, when you look at St. Louis, they have starting pitching depth for days, with Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, and Michael Wacha.  Add in Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, and the Cardinals might be willing to part with one of their young starters for the right price.  Lynn might walk more batters than the Twins like, but he can make batters miss and he gets enough ground balls to keep the infielders busy.  He also threw 200 innings last season and sits 92-93 with his fastball.  He's probably more expensive than the other names on this list, but he might have the most upside as well. 

We'll continue tomorrow with six more names.  If you simply cannot wait until then, just give me a call and I'll share the six names with you.  See you tomorrow!

Minnesota Twins Offseason Extravaganza: 1998

State of the Team

1998 Record:  70-92, 4th in the AL Central
1998 Overview:  Well, David Ortiz had a 111 OPS+ at age 22...
1999 Outlook:  Someone has to hit more than 16 home runs, right?

Players Lost - Free Agency

The Twins lost the following players after the 1997 season:  Bob Tewksbury (retired), Paul Molitor (retired), Otis Nixon (Braves), Scott Stahoviak (Cubs), Pat Meares (Pirates), Todd Ritchie (Pirates) and Dan Serafini (sold to the Cubs).  This is analogous to a hoarder getting rid of all their junk (not Molitor, I love him). 

Meares was significant because he had been with the team for so long.  He wasn't good, don't get me wrong, but he had been here for a long time.  Stahoviak was actually pretty good in 1996 (OPS+ of 111), but then he was dreadful in 1997 and barely played in 1998.  He never played again. 

Todd Ritchie was just released and won 15 games for the Pirates in 1999.  Otis Nixon was 40 in 1999 and still stole 26 bases.  The Twins sold Dan Serafini.  Yeah, they just sold him for cash.  I'm sure people loved that.  I'm willing to bet the money was re-invested into the team.  Perhaps to sign Melvin Nieves?

Players Gained - Free Agency

You might remember the scene in Seinfeld when George and Susan are picking out wedding invitations.  The clerk tells them that the giant binder is sorted from most expensive in the front to the least expensive in the back.  George then immediately flips the giant binder's worth of plastic pages to the very back of the binder and then immediately points at the first one he sees and says "that looks good." 

That seems to be how the Twins approached free agents in the late 90s.  Flip to the back, point, sign crap.  At least no one died as a result.

The Twins signed TWO actual free agents in 1998:  Melvin Nieves and Bob Wells.  We'll start with Wells.  Wells was coming off of an age 31 season when he posted a 6.10 ERA in 51.2 innings.  He was horrible.  Wells was good in 1999 though.  He was the exact same pitcher, but he gave up fewer home runs and he was good.  His ERA was under 4 and he gave the bullpen 87.1 innings.  He was even better in 2000 and then reverted to the real back-of-the-binder Bob Wells in 2001 and 2002. 

Nieves didn't play a game for the Twins.  Just three months after signing one of the two free agents the Twins would sign, they sold him to the Fukuoka Daiel Hawks.  Apparently the Twins are selling minor free agents in addition to their own minor players.  Someone should really consider contracting this team. 

The Twins did sign Bobby Kietly as an amateur free agent this off-season.  They couldn't find any teams to offer cash for him, so they just kept him.


I'm not sure these trades deserve that "z."  The Twins traded Dan Naulty to the Yankees for Allen Butler and traded Alex Ochoa to the Brewers for a player to be sold named later (Darrell Nicholas).  Oddly enough, that player (again, Nicholas), was named one day later.  That seems unnecessary. 

These trades were minor and the players sent out were not great, so you can't really rip the team too much.  These just weren't exciting moves.  Naulty pitched just 49.1 more innings in his career, all the following season.  Ochoa had a fine season in 1999 and then another fine season in 2000, but he was out of baseball after the 2002 season. 

Nicholas and Butler never played in the Majors. 

Biggest Splash

Terry Steinbach signed a 2 year, $5.7 million dollar contract two seasons prior.  He was coming off of a 35 home run season and you know he's from Minnesota and whatnot, so it was a good idea.  He hit a combined 26 home runs in 1997 and 1998 and barely posted an OBP over .300.  The Twins brought him back in 1999 for a million bucks and he had a fine farewell season at 37.  He posted his best OPS+ as a Twin (89) and caught 96 games.  Not bad for the cost at that age. 

Biggest Miss

On September 28, the Twins claimed Fred Rath off of waivers from the Rockies.  Less than three months later, the Twins signed Gary Rath as a free agent.  I'm quite certain they are not brothers, considering they were born just five days apart.  They combined for just 4.2 innings in 1999, all from Gary (real name is Alfred).  HOW CAN A TEAM MISS ON SO MANY RATHS?!?!?

My Own Personal Heartbreak

I was sad that Molitor retired, but he was old.  He had three fine seasons with the Twins, all at an advanced age.  The on-field product was mostly poor during this era, so it was fun to watch a Hall of Famer play hard in his last few seasons of baseball.

Arbitrary Overall Assessment:  F

What a garbage off-season.  The Twins did next to nothing.  It shocks me to think that the Twins were just a couple years from being a consistent division contender.  Luckily for the organization, they drafted and developed talent extremely well during these lean years.  As for moves made between seasons?  It was basically - old guy, cheap guy, untalented guy and Minnesota guy.  If you weren't one or more of those, the Twins didn't seem interested. 

Seriously, the Twins sold two players this off-season.

Next Monday, we'll look at the 1999 off-season.  See you then!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Using MLB 13: The Show to improve the Minnesota Twins' 2013 Season: Part IV

What would have been the result of the 2013 Minnesota Twins season if a video game had been in charge of the team instead of a Terry Ryan and a Ron Gardenhire?  That's what we're working on here.  The first 2/3rds of the fake season has played out already.  Here's part 1, part 2, and part 3, if you missed them.  If you've been waiting patiently for a resolution, you just might get one today. 

Will the Robo or Virtual or CPU Twins be active during the trade season, or stand pat?  Will they make a playoff push?  Will they keep their Virtual players healthy?  Let's find out.


The Twins immediately freak out their most loyal fans by placing Justin Morneau and Jamey Carroll on trade waivers.  It's one thing to put Morneau and his large contract/decent production out there, but to expose a man with the character of Jamey Carroll?  Inexcusable.  Each player cleared waivers and neither was ever traded.  Well then.

Two major injuries hit within two days in early August.  Chris Parmelee shredded his ACL (actually just torn) and will miss the season.  Oswaldo Arcia tore his calf and will also miss the season.  Ouchie.  As a result, the Twins recalled Eduardo Escobar and fake player Will Cortez.  Cortez was inserted into the starting lineup and Escobar received 4 at bats the rest of the year. 

On August 8, the Twins were 55-59, just 5 games back of the second Wild Card.

On August 16, Willis Reed  Chris Parmelee triumphantly returned from his torn ACL.  He recovered in 15 days.  The Twins' medical staff works miracles!  Eric Fryer, who you forgot was even around, was sent back to AAA to make room for the fast-healing Parmelee.  However, his return did not spark the team and they finished August 63-73, 22.5 games behind Detroit and 8 games behind the second Wild Card. 


September means September call-ups!  Yay, medocrity!  The Twins rewarded the following scrubs with call-ups:  Caleb Thielbar, Eric Fryer, Doug Bernier, Pedro Florimon (from AA, remember), Wilkin Ramirez (also in AA), Chris Herrmann, Michael Tonkin, Ryan Pressly, Josh Roenicke (now a starter), Tyler Robertson, Anthony Swarzak, Bigfoot, Pedro Hernandez, and Liam Hendriks.  They also had some internal discussion about one of their top prospects:

Exactly one day later, Willingham was moved to the bench for fake player Will Cortez.  LOL. 

September fake baseball started on two somber notes.  First, the Rochester Red Wings failed to make the playoffs.  Then, in a second kick to the groin, the New Britain Rock Cats missed the playoffs as well.  It was too much to overcome.  The Twins immediately lost three straight games.  Then, something strange happened...

The Twins won 9 straight and pulled within a game of .500.  It was so odd to watch the rally.

/Simulate game:  W.
/Simulate game:  W.
/Simulate game:  W.

And so on.  On September 14, Aaron Hicks returned from his separated shoulder and probably sparked his robot teammates.  Then it all ended.  The Twins failed to win their 10th straight game and didn't really win a whole lot more in September, finishing the season with a respectable 77-85 record, but 20 games back of the Tigers.  They did finish ahead of Cleveland and Chicago though.  All in all, not bad for a bunch of fakeness. 


The Twins did not make the playoffs.  Robot 10-year-old Brad cried and immediately rusted.  In the end, the Robot Tigers swept the Robot Reds to win the Robot World Series.  Miguel Cabrera was the playoff MVP. 

The Show did a pretty good job with award winners, as I think all of these could match the actual 2013 award winners:

AL MVP - Miguel Cabrera
AL Cy Young - Max Scherzer
AL ROY - Wil Myers

Oh, and Justin Morneau was the Silver Slugger at 1st base!  Cute!  His Robot comeback did not go unnoticed nationally.  He finished the season with a .311/.387/.549 line, 30 home runs, 119 RBI and did so in just 140 games played.  Ryan Doumit lead the team with 148 games played.  Shaun Marcum went 13-9 with an ERA just under 3.  Glen Perkins saved 40 games.  Kevin Correia had 34 strikeouts.  It was all emotional. 

The fake off-season was pretty fun.  The first order of business was to give Ron Gardenhire a four-year extension.  I guess if the real Twins had won 77 games, he might have gotten a similar real extension.  From there, the Twins Front Office was given approval for a 10% budget increase, which Robot Terry Ryan politely declined.  Just kidding!  He immediately signed Jon Lester to a 6 year, $50 million dollar contract.  Since the Robot Red Sox didn't win the World Series, they must have decided to not retain their Ace. Strong move, ROBORYAN. 

Jamey Carroll retired, which was sad.  The Twins also decided to move on from a litany of players, most notably Brian Duensing, Darin Mastroianni, Chris Colabello, Drew Butera and Brian Dozier.  Dozier would sign with the hated Yankees, replacing Robinson Cano.  That is, if Robinson Cano was playing for the Yankee's AAA team like Dozier would do in Robot 2014.  The Twins also signed Kevin Youkilis, Nate McLouth and a bunch of other scrubs you've heard of (Anthony Gose, David Lough, Jeff Baker). 
Right before Spring Training, the Robot Twins DFA'ed Pedro Florimon.  Weak.

I took screenshots of the Twins 2014 Opening Day Lineup and Rotation:

I managed to get Youkilis's crazy mustache in the picture.  He's on the bench in favor of Trevor Plouffe, the proverbial cockroach of this fake team.

If this crazy exercise doesn't give you hope for the next fake season, I don't know what will.  Unfortunately, you'll have to play out that fake season in your dreams.  If you want to send me some fan fiction, I'll happily read it.  My time as a Robo blogger has ended.  I look forward to seeing what the real Twins do this off-season.  I hope they sign a pitcher as good as Lester, but we'll have to see.  Thanks for reading my craziness!