Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Who Will Land Otani?

     After spending way too much time discussing whether the Nippon Baseball League will allow him to leave, how the posting rules should work, and who can offer the most money, we've finally gotten through the red tape and Japanese jack of all trades Shohei Otani is officially eligible to sign with a team.
     The Rangers and Yankees can offer the most, although not by much because of the complex international signing rules. All of his offers will be under about 3.5 million dollars. I'm not sure how important any of that is anyway because if getting a ton of money was that important to Otani he would have waited another few years until he was 25 so he could get above the rookie pool.
     With the amount of money being more or less a nonfactor, this is as wide open of a race for an international free agent has ever been. If I had to guess, I'd say teams in the AL have a better shot at signing him because they could use him as a DH to rest his arm between starts. Other than that, it's up in the air. Otani's made it clear he wants to be a two-way player, so how teams respond to the written proposal Otani's agent is making them write could very well likely be the most important thing.
      Another reason being in a big market won't be important in this race: The Sixty Minutes story on Otani. If there's one thing I learned about him there it's that the dude cares about almost nothing but baseball. Look at these excerpts.
"No. I mean he doesn’t really do anything. He just, mellow kid, just goes back to the dorms."
 "Ohtani confirmed to us that he seldom leaves the facility. Not that it keeps fans from waiting for him outside."
     Does that sound like a guy who wants to go to New York? Shohei Otani wants to pitch, and he wants to hit. He's going to choose a team who will allow him to do both. That's the biggest difference between him and Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay. The Reds and Rays can decide what Greene and McKay will do. Otani can dictate his own terms.
     With this in mind, there is only one completely logical place for Otani to land, and that's in Minnesota. I may sound like a huge homer, but hear me out. In the aforementioned written pitch, Falvey and Levine could say something like this: We're a young, contending team that could be in the playoffs for the next several seasons to come. Come to Minnesota and you can DH on the days you don't pitch. If that satisfies his requirements I think that at least gets the Twins into consideration.
     From a logistical standpoint, throwing Otani into the mix doesn't complicate Molitor's job too much. I'm thinking Otani slides into the rotation and pitches every five days, plays DH three days and gets the day off the game before he pitches. The two days he's not in the lineup, Sano will DH and Escobar will play third.
     The Twins luck in the Asian market hasn't been good. Tsuyoshi Nishioka was a complete disaster. Byung-ho Park is still technically ongoing and has been somewhat less of a disaster. But that run has to end eventually, and the possibility of a Santana-Berrios-Otani rotation is too good to not make an attempt at. Coming off of the first playoff appearance since 2010 and having a young core, this is the perfect time to take a big swing. Let's make this happen Falvine.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Wildcard Preview

It's the game we've been waiting for, and of course it's against the Yankees. Of course the Twins and Yankees get good again at the same time. Of course they have to play the team that's knocked them out of three of their last four postseasons. "There is no better way to exorcise demons than by going through them", is something I'm sure someone once said. So let's do this thing.
In this corner
Are the New York Yankees, universally hated, owned by the Steinbrenner family, led by their 6'7" behemoth of an outfielder with a roster filled out by egomaniacs who want Mickey Mantle's numberdomestic abusers, and guys who punch people while they're on the ground in fights. They're fun for the whole family.
And in this corner
Are the scrappy Minnesota Twins! A year after losing 103 games, nobody gave them any chance. Even after a decent start, the front office gave up on them, selling at the trade deadline. Down the stretch, likeable young players like Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, and Eduardo Escobar, as well as the continued presence of veteran leaders Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier.
Alright, now that the propaganda is done, let's break this down.
Starting Pitching matchup
Ervin Santana vs. Luis Severino
I actually like this matchup for the Twins. Severino's been really good, even dominant at times this year, but he's still only 23-years-old and has no big game experience. Meanwhile Santana's been the Twins' rock all season, posting a 3.36 ERA and generally just being a steady force every five days. I can say this much: with Santana on the mound I'm confident the Twins won't get blown out, at least until the bullpen comes in. My biggest concern here is Severino's repertoire. He throws a fastball that hovers around 97 miles per hour and a slider in the high 80s. The Twins have struggled against flamethrowers like that all season.
     If he doesn't do well, Joe Girardi will no doubt have a very shot leash with him. Even if he pitches well he'll be hard-pressed to go six with Girardi eager to use the bullpen. The Twins can't afford to do that with Santana. He might have to grit out some innings tomorrow because there will be four trustworthy relievers in that pen at the most.
     Berrios out of the bullpen will be interesting to see. I'm definitely in favor of it. I'd rather see Berrios in any tight spot than anyone in the bullpen. Berrios averages about 94 MPH on his fastball while starting, it'll be faster out of the pen when he doesn't have to conserve as much. With that in mind, I think ideally the plan is this: Santana for six innings, followed by either Hildenberger or Berrios in the seventh depending on where they are in the Yankees' order. Berrios will get the middle if it's there. Whoever doesn't get the seventh pitches the eighth with Belisle closing it out. As a side note, we're less than 24 hours away from the Twins playing a playoff game with Belisle as their closer and Jorge Polanco as their three hitter. I don't think anything represents the weirdness of this season better than that.
Key Player
Miguel Sano
Earlier, I was holding out hope that Sano could start. It's looking like that's not going to happen. I'm not sure what to think after this last weekend because while he looked pretty bad in a few at bats, Sano looks bad all the time, and I don't know whether this was because of his shin or if they were just regular awful looking two-strike Sano swings. With that said, if he can't start I see him pinch-hitting for Kepler against Chapman, in a power-on-power at bat that just might end in an explosion.
Key Factor
Keep Gardner and Ellsbury off the bases
It was a little concerning how easily those two ran off of Santana and Castro the last time the Twins were in the Bronx, they were on a combined six times and stole two bases apiece. Keeping them off the basepaths will be crucial with Sanchez and Judge batting behind them. Last time Ervin pitched the Twins were fortunate, neither of them had hits with runners in scoring position. They can't count on that happening again.
Final Thoughts
I want the Twins to win this game if for nothing else but so that I don't have to read one more article about how much the Yankees own the Twins in the playoffs. That's all irrelevant now. Mauer was the only Twin on the team last time this happened in 2010. Nobody from either team was there in 2004. If there was a Twins team in the last ten years to beat the Yankees when all numbers say they shouldn't, this is it. It's one game. Anything can happen. I'll take the Twins 3, Yankees 2.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Some Notes Going into Game Two in New York

We're heading into the home stretch of the season, things are getting stressful, and the Twins are a game into maybe the most important series in the last five years. Here are some notes and observations before tonight's Berrios-Sabathia duel.

  • Three separate Jaime Garcia moments made me want to put my fist through a wall last night: The first being when I realized the Twins lineup is so inconsistent they're somehow making him look like Corey Kluber. The second was when I realized the Twins wouldn't have had to face him if they had held on to him. I then remembered he's been terrible in New York which briefly gave me some solace before I realized that means it makes even less sense that he would be pitching so well tonight, ultimately leading to moment number three.
  • In all seriousness, the biggest reason for Garcia's success last night was getting strike one. Of the 20 batters he faced last night, he got a first pitch strike twelve times. It's really difficult to consistently hit from behind, and that's what the Twins were doing last night. Getting ahead allowed Garcia to then expand the strike zone with two strikes, something he used to exploit the youth and lack of experience of Rosario and Buxton multiple times last night. In the second inning, Polanco jumped on a first pitch fastball and ripped it to right for a double. The Twins need to do more of that tonight if Sabathia comes out as aggressive as Garcia.
  • Long standing belief I've had: Under no circumstances should Joe Mauer strike out looking. If Mauer doesn't swing at a pitch with two strikes, it probably wasn't a strike. Umpires should call games with this in mind.
  • One thing I wasn't expecting to happen was the Yankees to run like crazy. I know Santana is notorious for having a slow delivery but Gardner and Ellsbury even stole off of Duffy and Hildenberger. More on this in a second.
  • Gardner and Ellsbury were on a combined six times last night. Of course they're the two guys who can do the biggest damage on the basepaths for the Yankees. It's especially frustrating considering the Twins' staff did a pretty good job with the scariest part of the lineup. Judge had the homer in the first inning but he went hitless for the rest of the game. Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius both went 0-for-4.
  • The best part about this weeks' slate of games is that the Angels are playing the Indians. It's plausible that the Twins could lose two of three without messing up their playoff chances too badly.
  • These Twins are so weird and unpredictable I wouldn't be surprised if they put up 20 runs tonight. I also wouldn't be surprised if they got no-hit.
  • Prediction: I think the good Berrios shows up tonight and the bats rebound at least a little bit. Dozier picks up his 31st homer in a 5-1 victory.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Buxton Resurgence

    When Byron Buxton made his Major League debut in 2015 I was maybe more nervous than I've ever been before a June game in all of my fandom. In a way, it was more fun with Buxton as a mythical figure in the minor leagues. Before he played a game for the Twins, he had no faults, he was the perfect ballplayer. Now that he was on the big league club, stats would be counted and we would see if he was really worth the hype. Things hit a snag at the beginning when he struck out in his first at-bat. They continued to snag when he hit .209 his rookie year. And then .225 in 2016. Or when he started his junior campaign by going 4-for-49. Gradually, things turned around. The turning around became less gradual in July and August. Here's a look at why.
     Early in the season, Buxton's name was synonymous with strikeouts. In April he struck out in over a third of his at-bats, at a 37% clip. Compare that to now, he struck out 22.9% of the time in July and is on a similar pace at 23.3%. A lot of this credit goes to hitting coach James Rowson. Rowson's helped Buxton simplify his approach at the plate and he looks much more comfortable as a result. Check out his swing in his first career AB in 2015 and compare it to how it looked in June of 2016 and his RBI single yesterday. His swing's gotten shorter and quicker in the last two seasons. The changes have paid off. Buxton's barreling up the ball with much more regularity, increasing his line drive percentage from 16 in April to almost 30 this month. 
     No matter how much his hitting improves, Buxton's biggest asset always has and always will be his speed, which is why it was frustrating to see him wasting much of it in 2015 and 2016. In those two years. He hit fly balls roughly 43 percent of the time. On top of that, he struck out at a rate between 30 and 35 percent. So that's over 70 percent of the time he wasn't able to utilize the most dangerous aspect of his game. There's quite a difference this season. He's fly balls 35 percent of the time total, and in August that number drops to 30.
     By putting the ball on the ground more often, Buxton's helping the team in ways he doesn't get credit with in the box score. For example: with Buxton running, any bobble on a grounder means he gets on base. Sometimes a fielder will try to move too quickly and make an error just because of Buxton's speed.
     It's been tough to watch Buxton play the last two years, but it looks like he's finally putting it all together. He might not be Mike Trout, he's not winning any MVPs at age 23, but he's getting there. At the very least, he's Jason Heyward, a great fielder who can't quite hit well enough. But if these last two months are any indication, he's turned a corner and the sky's the limit.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Breaking Down the Trade Deadline

The trade deadline wasn't quite as hectic as it's been in previous years, but that's no reason not to take a look at the deals. We'll begin with the two Twins trades.
Twins get: Dietrich Enns, Zack Littell
Yankees get: Jaime Garcia
Garcia's illustrious Twins career came to a close Sunday with this move to the east coast. It's a solid trade for the Yankees; Garcia's by no means a star or even the pitcher he used to be, but he's a reliable back of the rotation starter for the stretch run. On the Twins' end this is looking pretty good. Enns in a long shot, 26 years old and has yet to make it to the majors. Littell on the other hand, is an interesting situation. In 115 innings between Single and Double-A, the 21-year-old has a 1.87 ERA. While his fastball only tops out in the low 90s, his command and curveball project him to be at least a big league reliever. How he progresses from there depends on the development of his changeup.
Twins get: Tyler Watson
Nationals get: Brandon Kintzler
I like this deal for the Twins. If you're out of the race it's always a good idea to flip your relievers for anything you can get. There's always a market there; contenders are always looking to boost their bullpens for the stretch run, especially since the 2015 Royals showed how valuable an impenetrable, deep bullpen can be. The other reason is that any reliever having a good year can be a closer. Exhibit A? Brandon Kintzler himself. Anyway, the Nats were in desperate need to relief to compete with the Astros and Dodgers for best teams in baseball and Kintzler can provide some of that, even though he doesn't strike guys out like a typical reliever.  For the Twins, Watson is an intriguing young lefty. He only turned 20 last May and has a ton of upside at 6' 5". Like Littell, he throws in the low 90s with an above-average curve.
Rangers get: Willie Calhoun, A.J. Alexy, Brendon Davis
Dodgers get: Yu Darvish
This is a tough one to analyze. Darvish is in the midst of his worst career, sporting a 4.01 ERA this season, and an abominable 7.20 in the month of July. Things will only get tougher for him moving into Dodger Stadium, a hitters' park. Until he actually suits up for LA, it's impossible to know whether he just went through a rough month or if this is who he is now. No matter what the answer is to that, he's definitely no longer an ace, but the Dodgers don't need that, they just need a solid back end starter. Yeah, they made the Rangers a deal like he's still an ace, but if they win the World Series, a scenario that's looking more likely every day, it won't matter. Coming to Texas are a pair of high-upside infielders in Calhoun and Davis. Alexy is a young starting pitcher who's been solid in low-A ball this season, but he's a ways away from the majors.
A's get: James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo, Dustin Fowler
Yankees get: Sonny Gray
The Yankees ended up with the most coveted arm available at the deadline because of course they did. Gray's 27, has a 3.34 ERA, and won't be a free agent until 2020 at the earliest. The Yankees even managed to do it without giving up any of their top prospects. It's hard to believe this is the best deal the A's could get for Gray. Kaprielian had to have Tommy John surgery in the spring, so he's done for this season and possibly more. Meanwhile Fowler brings solid defense in the outfield and speed to the table but isn't expected to be a star by any means. Mateo is the most interesting of this trio. He's a notoriously streaky hitter but has shown some power this year, and his athleticism gives him the opportunity to be the rare shortstop who makes a difference with his glove and hits homers.
Before we go, let's do a quick run-through of some earlier deals.
Jose Quintana to the Cubs
I though this deal was overrated when it first happened. Quintana hadn't been particularly effective this year, sporting a 4.49 ERA on the south side of Chicago. The White Sox atrocious fielding had something to do with that, but he still had a FIP above 4. Naturally he's only given up five runs in 19 innings with the Cubs, who are back in first place.
Eduardo Nunez to the Red Sox
Nunez has gotten off to a hot start in Boston, hitting two homers in his debut and going 8-for-17 out of the gate. At the very least he's an improvement over the Sox third basemen this year, Pablo Sandoval and Devin Marrero both hitting .212 during their time at the hot corner. Even if he wasn't, it's always fun to have Eduardo Nunez around anyway,

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Midseason Awards

MVP: Aaron Judge
After Trout got injured this became Judge's award to lose. Beyond single-handedly making the Yankees about 70% less hateable he's having one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time. Don't believe me? In 2012 Trout hit .326/.399/.564 with 30 homers. Judge is hitting .329/.448/.691 with 30 homers through 84 games. Obviously he won't sustain his .426 batting average on balls in play but there probably won't be a big of a drop off as one might expect because he's third in baseball in hard hit percentage,* barreling up almost half of the balls he hits. At any rate, Judge is the easy choice in a surprisingly sparse AL field.
*Behind Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos for some reason
Runner-up: Carlos Correa
I have Correa here, but the amazing part about the Astros' season is that you could make the argument that he's only been the third most valuable player behind Jose Altuve and George Springer. They have their own cases but let's take a look at Correa right now. He's hitting .325 with a .420 on base along with 20 homers. Outside of the batters' box he's been an above average fielding shortstop. Also, he's 22 years old. I don't think his solid all-around game is enough to compete with the offensive Monstar season of Judge, but it's been an excellent breakout after his relatively disappointing sophomore campaign.
Cy Young: Chris Sale
It's about damn time. Sale's been one of if not the best pitcher in the AL for the last six years and has no hardware to show for it. In that time he's posted an ERA of 3.01, and ERA+ of 136 and averaged 218 strikeouts a year. This season he's leading the AL in strikeouts, FIP, WHIP, innings pitched and has allowed the fewest number of hits per nine innings. I don't know what more he can do to win this year.
Runner-up: Corey Kluber
So far, Kluber's having his best season since his Cy Young winning 2014. His 2.80 ERA is the lowest it's been since then, and his WHIP is the lowest it's been in his entire career; for the first time he's allowing less than one baserunner per inning.
Rookie of the Year: Judge
Runner-up: Andrew Benintendi
Coming in with massive expectations, Benintendi's been steady in the Bosox lineup. So far he's hit .279/.357/.446 with 12 homers. That's nothing to sneeze at, especially for someone who just turned 22 last week.
LVP: Manny Machado
I really hate to have Machado because he's so much fun to watch but he's been a disaster this year. His OBP (.296) is barely higher than his 2016 batting average (.294). Meanwhile the Orioles have struggled, sitting in fourth place in the East. Going into this year without an ace or even a particularly good rotation, Baltimore needed a high-powered offense to keep pace in a tough division, with the 24-year-old Machado being the linchpin. As it's worked out, Machado's struggled and so has the team, sporting a sub-.500 record at the break.
Player to watch in the second half: Eric Hosmer
Hosmer was the third overall pick in 2008 draft and has had massive expectations following him since then. Even after the Royals' World Series victory in 2015 and his All-Star appearance the next season he hasn't quite lived up to what was expected of him. Now, in his contract season, he's putting together his best year as a pro so far, posting a line of .318/.374/.492 while continuing to be one of the top defensive first basemen in baseball. He and Salvador Perez have been driving this Royals resurgence, who are 44-43 after starting out 7-16. With the trade deadline less than three weeks away, the Royals will have to decide whether to buy or sell.
MVP: Bryce Harper
Runner-up: Paul Goldschmidt
Choosing between Harper and Goldschmidt made me think way too hard about who I should award a theoretical midseason MVP trophy to. Harper has slight advantages in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage, but Goldschmidt is a better fielder. Ultimately I gave it to Harper because of the "Valuable" part of Most Valuable Player. Harper's Nationals are sitting on top of the East at 52-36. While Arizona's been a lot better than expected this season, they're still nowhere near Washington and when the race is this close you need to go by degrees.
Cy Young: Max Scherzer
It's funny that in this season defined by historic home run numbers and offensive production we have two of the best pitchers of the decade having personal best seasons with Sale and Scherzer. Even better, neither of them are in the AL Central while having said seasons. Just like Sale, this was a pretty easy call because Scherzer is leading the NL in just about every meaningful pitching stat: ERA, WHIP, FIP, and strikeouts.
Runner-up: Clayton Kershaw
On the other coast, we have the best pitcher of the decade, who just quietly continues to dominate without much fanfare in LA of all places. This year serves as a pretty good microcosm for his career. Dominance despite being overshadowed by things much more interesting to a national crowd. This year it's Cody Bellinger, previously it's been Yasiel Puig, the Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford/Nick Punto trade from Boston and the McCourt fiasco. That's all fine. It doesn't matter that, unlike Scherzer and Sale this isn't his best year. A 2.18 ERA is providing plenty, especially on this juggernaut of a Dodgers team.
Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger
Speaking of juggernautesque Dodgers, how about Cody Bellinger? The Judge comparison is easy to make, but not quite accurate. Judge is in the midst of a historic rookie season. Bellinger is fun, but just doesn't quite stack up. Regardless, this is another really easy choice. Bellinger is hitting .261 with 25 homers in a difficult park for hitters while contributing to the best team in the NL. He's also the youngest player to get an at bat this year. Don't worry if he's not Judge.
Runner-up: Ian Happ
The one bright spot to the Cubs season is Happ, the versatile slugger who's hit 13 homers in 51 games. Whatever. I doubt there are any Cubs fans taking solace in that. I don't feel bad for them. They got their World Series. See you in 108 years. Before that, meet me in the next section to make even more fun of the Cubs.
LVP: Kyle Schwarber
Obviously it had to be a Cub. I considered going with Arrieta and Lester and Co-LVPs, but no one represents the disappointment of the Cubs than Schwarber: He happened to come alive at the perfect time for Chicago last season, the future was bright with him, and he hasn't produced this season. Actually, "hasn't produced" is a nice way of putting it. To say it a little more bluntly: He was terrible. In addition to being the ugliest player in the league (but he's had that title since 2015) he hit .178/.300/.394 in 277 plate appearances before being sent to Triple-A. Also like the Cubs, he's incredibly young and talented and it's absolutely a possibility to see him turning it around and having a productive second half.
Player to watch in the second half: Kyle Freeland
The Colorado righty has gone 9-and-7 with a 3.77 ERA, which is especially good when you consider he's playing half of this games in Coors Field. With Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon doing plenty for an excellent offensive team, Freeland and the rest of the pitching staff will be especially crucial in the stretch run while fighting for a wild card spot.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Astros Return to the Top of the West

     It's been a weird few years for the Houston Astros. Between 2011 and 2013 they had one of the worst three year stretches in baseball history, going 162-324, winning fewer than 60 games each year. 2014 was better; they went 70-92 and fired manager Bo Porter in September because apparently they were expecting to be better or something. With these miserable seasons they had accumulated quite a farm system, even though of their number one picks, Brady Aiken didn't sign and Mark Appel was a disappointment before being traded to the Phillies in a deal for Ken Giles. Still, Carlos Correa was clearly the real deal and Lance McCullers was on his way up. In 2015 they made the playoffs for the first time since 2005 behind strong seasons from Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa among others and a Cy Young season from Dallas Keuchel. However, after a blazing 18-7 start, they cooled off for the rest of the season, going 68-71 through September. 2016 they went 84-78, missing the playoffs, with Keuchel having a massively underwhelming season, seeing his ERA balloon to 4.55. Finally, that brings us to this year. The 'Stros have the best record in baseball, at 52-26. Here's a look at what they did to jump another level.
Improving their weaknesses
This may sound a little dumb and obvious, but Houston's front office was exceptional at improving the areas where they struggled last year. Their 2016 catcher was Jason Castro. Castro's biggest strength is his defense, but it's still difficult to contend with a catcher who hits .210/.307/.377. This offseason they traded a pair of minor leaguers for Brian McCann who (along with being the protector of all things sacred and holy about baseball) is hitting .261/.343/.463. In left and center field, they replaced Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez, who last year hit .206 and .210 for the Astros respectively with Nori Aoki who despite his shortcomings in power and drawing walks is certainly an upgrade and Josh Reddick, who is enjoying the best season of his career, hitting .297 with an OPS+ of 132. Like I said, improving the weaknesses of a team seems obvious, it's what a front office is there for, but look at how many teams haven't done it. At the end of 2016, the Mets were in a similar situation, having had an excellent 2015 and a not quite as good 2016 with a tough division rival they needed to keep up with. Like the Astros, they had a weakness at catcher, with Travis d'Arnaud hitting a paltry.247/.307/.323 and providing defense behind the plate that's mediocre at best. Flash forward a year and d'Arnaud is hitting .226 in the seven car collision that is the Mets season. To be clear: Not improving at catcher definitely isn't why the Mets are bad this year, but it shows that front offices aren't always as proactive in improving as the Astros' was this offseason.
The Keuchel Resurgence
The Astros rotation has been led by the one-two punch of Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, who have combined to go 16-1 with ERAs of 1.67 and 2.53. Let's take a look at Keuchel because McCullers' success isn't too surprising given that he's 23 and has stuff so nasty it was only a matter of time until he figured it out. Keuchel's different. After his Cy Young season he took a step back in 2016 partially because of his drop in velocity. His fastball, cutter, and slider all saw drops of around a mile per hour. In 2016 he also used his fastball and changeup less often (59% of the time) and relied on his breaking stuff more, as if to compensate for his drop in velocity, but this year before going on the DL, he's back up to the ratio he used to success in 2015, throwing his fastball and changeup 67% of the time, closer to the 69% mark in 2015.
     This is the best Astros team since 2005. All the prospects are here. The bullpen's been solid, and if they can pick up another arm at the deadline to go with Keuchel and McCullers they'll be built for the playoffs. That would fit in with what they've been doing recently; just continuing to improve.