Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Odorizzi Trade

     The Twins lost out on Yu Darvish. And that's fine. I would have loved sign him as much as anyone but not for 126 million and definitely not for six years. Now that Darvish is off the board, the Twins are turning their focus to others like Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, and, more recently, Jake Odorizzi, who they acquired Saturday for minor league shortstop Jermaine Palacios.
     A little background on Odorizzi: He's 27 years old and is under team control after the 2019 season. His best year came in 2015 when he posted a 3.35 ERA. His subsequent years haven't been as good, although they have been consistent. He pitched 187 innings in 2016 before injuries limited him to 143 innings last year. His ERA in both years was between 3.60 and 4.15. His ERA+ was 108 and 100 respectively. He was about as average as a pitcher can be.
     An average pitcher is something the Twins could badly use. Only three members of the rotation topped 100 innings in 2017. One of those three (Kyle Gibson) had an ERA north of 5.00. Things got so bad that they had to sign Bartolo Colon in July. Adam Wilk, Nik Turley, Dietrich Enns and Nick Tepesch all started games. At minimum Odorizzi can be a stabilizing force who keeps things from going too far south between Santana and Berrios' starts.
     One concerning thing with Odorizzi is that his numbers have gotten worse each year since his breakout. There isn't anything that jumps off the page, but his ERA, FIP, and walk rate have all steadily increased since 2015. His FIP has also been consistently higher than his ERA, indicating that's he's been luckier than average, but that might not be a huge issue in Minnesota. The Twins collectively saved 20 runs defensively last year and the Rosario-Buxton-Kepler outfield trio especially helps out fly ball pitchers like Odorizzi (48% fly ball rate last year).
     His biggest issue last year was the long ball. His homer rate spiked to 15.5 from 12 in 2016, even as he gave up fewer hits per nine innings than he had his entire career. Again, the move to Minnesota could help that. Just in the last few years the Twins have seen improvements from pitchers who were plagued by homers in the past. Phil Hughes halved his rate when he arrived in 2014, and Ervin Santana's rate has remained consistent with the rest of his career despite arriving at Target Field at the beginning of the homerun boom in 2015.
     The bottom line: Trading for Odorizzi is a low-risk move that could potentially pay off in a big way. The Twins are looking to take another step, and they can't do that without just some stability throughout the roster. Odorizzi isn't a flashy name, but he can provide that.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Angel Question

     On September 29, the Los Angeles Angels played the Seattle Mariners. Mike Trout had an excellent game, going 2-for-3 with a walk and two homers in an 6-5 Angel Victory. The only problem was that the game meant nothing. The White Sox had eliminated the Angels the night before on a walk-off shot from Nicky Delmonico. Days like that were nothing new for Los Angeles who, since Trout became a star in 2011, have appeared in the postseason once, in 2014 when they were swept in the ALDS by the Royals.
     Those years have been frustrating to watch, not even as an Angels fan but just as baseball fan, seeing a front office bungle their opportunities with a generational talent. The stretch began before Trout was a part of the plans in the offseason of 2011, when they signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year, 240 million dollar deal. This was a fine move at the time; Pujols was the undisputed best player in baseball and even if it was too many years, that's the kind of thing you need to do for the best. In 2012, behind Trout and a still very good Pujols, they went 89-and-73 but missed the playoffs, finishing behind the A's and Rangers in a tough AL West.
     That offseason they signed what they thought would be the missing piece: star outfielder Josh Hamilton. The front office hoped Hamilton would help compensate for a shaky pitching staff that had benefitted from trading for the now-Dodger by this point Zack Greinke at the previous deadline. He did not. Hamilton dropped off in every statistical category from the previous year, while the staff posted a collective 4.24 ERA and gave up the third most homers in baseball.
     It was at this point the even bigger problems began manifesting. Los Angeles had lost their first round draft picks as compensation when they signed Pujols and Hamilton. They also traded three of their top prospects to Milwaukee for Greinke earlier that year. In short, their farm system was bare. At ESPN, Keith Law placed their system dead last in his annual rankings. Yes, I did just cite Keith Law in a column. This is weird. Let's move on.
     The Halos finally broke through in 2014 thanks to some (finally) decent pitching. However, that core didn't even last through the season. Garrett Richards had emerged as a legitimate ace, going 13-and-4 with a 2.61 ERA until ending his season with an ugly knee injury in August. Elsewhere on the staff, Hector Santiago had a solid season, but his underlying numbers showed a somewhat lucky pitcher with a FIP almost half a run higher than his ERA. The team ended up stumbling down the stretch, going 5-9 to end the regular season and getting swept by the Orioles in the ALDS.
     They missed the playoffs 2015, due in large part to the pitching regressing.
     The Angels finally started showing signs of life last year. Andrelton Simmons came around to provide enough pop at shortstop to be a formidable hitter as well as the best fielder in the league. Trout had his characteristically great season, even though he missed a month with an injury. General Manager Billy Eppler followed that up with a masterful offseason, re-signing trade deadline aquisition Justin Upton, trading for Ian Kinsler, signing Zack Cozart and, of course, signing Shohei Ohtani. The way Upton finished 2017 combined with Cozart and Ohtani's power can create a devastating middle of the order combination along with Trout. The only question mark here is- stop me if you've heard this one before- the pitching.
     Notice I didn't say it was bad. I said it was a question mark. Ohtani is suppose to be a stud (I'm a believer) but foreign prospects are always risky. Parker Bridwell had a solid 2017, posting a 3.65 ERA, but there's little to suggest he'll keep that going; He had a low strikeout and groundball rate coupled with a high fly ball rate tends to cause trouble. Richards hasn't ever completely recovered from that knee injury. He's hoping this will finally be the year he puts it behind him. Matt Shoemaker is another guy who's dealt with some injuries and hasn't shown his full potential. The Angles will put up plenty of runs and are certainly intriguing, but if the pitching doesn't come around, it will be just like every other year.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Same Movie, Different Ending

     I could see the montage that would play the next time the Vikings were in the playoffs. They'd be in a wildcard round game against the Rams or somebody when Fox would show all the heartbreaks the team endured over the course of some-twenty years. We'd see Gary Anderson's kick sail wide left, Favre force a ball over the middle and get intercepted by Tracey Porter, Blair Walsh miss a comically short field goal and then something from this game. I didn't know what it would be, maybe the blocked punt, maybe the coming field goal. All I knew for sure as the Drew Brees pass settled into Willy Snead's hands to convert a backbreaking fourth-and-ten with 37 seconds left was that there would be something.
     Twelve game seconds later Wil Lutz kicked what looked like a game-winning field goal and the game was over. When they started the drive off with a terrible false start penalty on over half the offensive line I didn't even care. The game was over. I had seen too many Vikings playoff heartbreaks to imagine the Vikings pulling this off. Then Keenum hit Diggs for 19, bringing the ball to the 39. The next two plays saw the line not holding up, and we were still at the 39 with ten seconds left. I was thinking there was a maybe five percent shot at a throw to the sidelines to get out of bounds, setting up an agonizing Kai Forbath field goal attempt. My point is, the possibility of a touchdown never crossed my mind.
     Keenum took the snap, dropped back and seemed the ball seemed to float toward the bottom right part of the TV screen. As Diggs came down with the ball, my friend Andy yelled, "get out of bounds!" I was thinking the same thing. Again, it was the only possibility in my mind. But then he didn't get out of bounds. He started running. And no one else was on the screen. It was at this point I began having an out-of-body experience. I wasn't watching Diggs sprint down the sidelines. I was watching myself watch Diggs. I think I may have been standing up and jumping, but I'm not sure. I didn't regain consciousness until Diggs was triumphantly throwing his helmet off to the side.
     The four friends I was with and I spent a few minutes celebrating like someone had just hit a walk-off homer. We hugged, jumped up and down, someone got tackled into the couch. Eventually things calmed down and we just ended up sitting on that couch, happily stunned. Every few seconds someone would say something like, "I can't believe that happened" or just let out a laugh.
     As a Vikings fan, even as I was reflecting six hours later, I just couldn't believe how it all worked out. Keenum put the throw exactly where he needed. Diggs made the catch, didn't get hit or step out of bounds. There were no dumb penalties on the play. For once we weren't team walking off in shocked disappointment. For once, we came out on top in a weird, back and forth playoff game. For once, the Vikings had shocked the world.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Twins Offseason Update

The offseason is in full swing, and the Twins are looking unusually aggressive. Here's a look at some moves they've made, and a few others they might.
Signing Michael Pineda
Sure, why not? Pineda is probably out all next year after having Tommy John surgery in July, but he was a solid starter when healthy, and he's a pretty low-risk high-reward guy for 2019. He had a 4.39 ERA last year in 96 innings while pitching in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium. He gives up a relatively high percentage of fly balls (30.6% last year) so he's much suited to both Target Field and the Twins outfielders rather than Yankee Stadium.
Signing Fernando Rodney

The Twins bullpen was so shaky last year that I would have been happy with anyone joining, whether it was Brandon Kintzler again, Steve Cishek or this 40-year-old with a 4.23 ERA last season. That figure isn't as bad as it seems when you look at his breakdown by months from last year. In April he pitched 10 innings and allowed 14 earned runs. After that he settled down for the remainder of the year, posting a 2.42 ERA. Still, I'm not that comfortable relying on a someone who will turn 41 in March to be a consistent closer all year. But if he works out he's another cheap depth reliever any team can use. Again, we have a low-risk high-reward guy. That's becoming a staple of the Falvey-Levine administration. Last year they picked up Castro and Giminez, who were both respectable in their positions and based on what was expected of them last season. We're getting two more of them this year. All this is allowing them to bide time until they make a big move like...
Sign Yu Darvish?
It's easy to get really excited about this, but allow me to be the naysayer for a few minutes: Darvish has a history of injuries, having missed the entire 2015 season and part of 2016 after having Tommy John surgery. While signing pitchers to long-term deals there's always a huge risk even when they don't have a history (see: Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia). Even more importantly than that, Darvish isn't in that top tier of pitchers and Cy Young contenders anymore. He had a respectable but not spectacular 3.86 ERA in 2017. Now, that still would have been the second best mark among Twins starters, and even more valuable in the second half when Ervin wasn't as dominant. I'll make this ultimatum as my hypothetical rule as Twins GM: If Darvish is willing to sign for under four years, I'd go for it. If not I'd let him go elsewhere and go after Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn.
One Suggestion for Mr. Falvey
Chris Giminez was a fine stopgap as a backup catcher, but Mitch Garver proved he's ready to have a full time big league roster spot down the stretch last year. It's time to let Giminez go and had the backup keys to Garver, who was more reliable both offensively and defensively last September. It's a small move, but one that could pay off over the course of a season. How many days until pitchers and catchers?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Who Will Land Ohtani?

     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 Ohtani 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 race is as wide open 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. Ohtani's made it clear he wants to be a two-way player, so how teams respond to the written proposal Ohtani'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 Ohtani. 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 Ohtani 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. Ohtani 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 Ohtani into the mix doesn't complicate Molitor's job too much. I'm thinking Ohtani 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 got good again at the same time. Of course the Twins 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's on his game 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, Looking bad is nothing new to Sano, 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 bags 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. 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 week's 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.