Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Early Twins Lineup Projection

     Before I start this column, I just want to talk about Scherzer inking a seven year, 210 million dollar deal with the Nationals. While it's generally regarded as an overpay whenever a pitcher gets that much money and especially that many years. As we've seen from guys like Johan Santana, their arms can go out at any time. But, as smart as it seems to decide not to them those kinds of deals, if you want to sign somebody as good as Scherzer you're going to have to do it because there will always be another team willing to do it. Mike Rizzo's basically saying, "We're willing to have a huge untradeable burden on our team for a few years if it'll help us win a World Series right now." Which is why I like the deal for Washington. They're absurdly deep on the mound, with Tanner Roark moving to the bullpen. Now on to the original column.
SS Danny Santana
I've been on the Santana bandwagon since day one and I'm not getting off anytime soon. While he'll almost certainly regress at least a little from last year with his unsustainable .405 BABIP, he's still an excellent fielder and base runner. On top of that, his batting average on balls in play has been around the .320 range his entire career throughout the minors, meaning he's been getting a little lucky, but not as lucky as someone who has a lower career average.
1B Joe Mauer
Much like how Santana will probably regress next year, I'm almost positive Mauer will do better assuming he stays healthy. My goofy theory for his first half struggles last year: He was under a lot of pressure to make the all star game. After the break, he seemed to loosen up and hit like the Mauer of old. I bet he hits around the .310/.400/415 range.
2B Brian Dozier
One of the most unorthodox players in the league, Dozier's a power hitting second baseman who makes up for his low batting average with a very high walk rate. I'm slightly concerned that only five of his 23 homers came after the all star break, but he kept his on base skills all the way through and is a terrific fielder.
RF Torii Hunter
He hit .298/.319/.446 last year in Detroit, but his contributions will be more off the field. I can't think of a better mentor for Aaron Hicks, and overall it'll just be fun to have him in a Twins uniform again.
I wrote that just after the he signed with the Twins and everything there's still true.
3B Trevor Plouffe
After a quietly putting together a solid season (.258 80 RBI 40 doubles 110 OPS+) the Twins will eventually have to decide what to do when Sano comes up. I asked Terry Ryan about this at Twinsfest and his response was pretty noncommittal, but he mentioned that if Plouffe continues to play well, they could try to fit both into the lineup. It's a pretty good idea in theory, but that's how we ended up with the Plouffe in right field debacle a few years ago. We'll see how it turns out.
C Kurt Suzuki
I'm fine with Suzuki, but I thought and still think the Twins should have traded him at the deadline last year. He posted a .310 batting average on balls in play, much higher than his career average on .274, and he tailed off in the second half, hitting just .253. He's a great defensive catcher, but he's probably already peaked. It would have been better for the Twins to at least get something for him.
DH Kennys Vargas
I'm a huge Vargas fan. Anytime you have a guy with as much raw power as him who can still slap it the other way, you've got a keeper. He chased a lot of pitches in the dirt last year, something common for young hitters he'll likely be able to improve.
LF Oswaldo Arcia 
Last year was one of the worst seasons of my fandom of the Twins. Not just because of the losses, but because of the lack of personality on the team. Arcia however, was one of the few fun people on the team with his mohawk and towering homers he would flip his bat after. However, his excitement didn't translate to production, as he hit just .231/.302/.452 and an unsightly .198/.261/.313 line against lefties. If there's any consolation, he hit a lot better in the second half than the first, with a .239/.290/.517 line along with 17 of his 20 homers.
CF Aaron Hicks
This is Hicks's make or break season. If he doesn't at least show some progress this year I don't think he ever will. I'm still hesitantly optimistic about him for the same reasons I am about Dozier. Namely, his batting eye (he posted a .341 OBP last year) and fielding. He struggled a lot against righties last season, (.178/.300/.212 compared to .279/.410/.382 against right handed pitchers) so I'd love to see him platoon with Arcia in right in a few years.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Trout on the Downswing?

     There are lots of things we don't know about Mike Trout. But let's start with some things we do know. 1) He had quite possibly the best rookie season of all time in 2012, 2) he got even better his second year, becoming a more selective hitter and leading the league in walks 3) He had a massively underwhelming 2014, his batting average dropping 36 points, stealing half as many bases and his on base percentage falling 55 points, and 4) despite everything I mentioned in the last section he's still without a doubt the best player in the AL.
     Think about that last point for a second. There's no one else in the league who could regress that much and still be that great. Of course, that also means people pay a lot less attention to it than they would anyone else. So should the Angels be concerned?
     What I didn't mention in the first paragraph is that Trout's power numbers have increased, going from 27 to 36 homers and 97 to 111 RBI. Unfortunately, that's come at the expense of just about everything else. He made way less contact, his strikeouts spiking to a league leading 184 and his zone contact rate fell from .89% to .85%. In other words, he swung and missed at pitches in the strike zone four percent more often last year than 2013. While that may not seem like a lot, it comes out to about 124 pitches he wiffed on in 2014 he hit in 2013.
     His concentration on power also has also affected what happens when he puts the ball in play. While going for more homers, 47.2% of balls he put in play were fly balls, up from 35.6% the year before. That caused his percentage of line drives to go down, dipping from 23 to 18.9%.
     All of this is happening despite the fact that he saw more fastballs last year than in 2013. Last year, 62.4% of all the pitches he saw were fastballs, up from 60.5% in '13. I can't think of a single explanation for why this happened. It's possibly just a coincidence, but it doesn't matter whether it is or not, what matters is that he wasn't taking advantage of having more opportunities.
     After looking at all this information, I'm sure Trout's skills aren't eroding. He's changed his mental approach. Which means he could change it at any time. So, to answer his question in the title, no, he's not getting worse. The best case scenario is a rich man's version of 2013. He's the five tool phenom he knew he could be. Anything's possible. The worst is pretty much last year. He decides he wants to be a power hitter and it comes at the expense of his hitting and base running. I hope he chooses the first route, but with Mike Trout, you can't go wrong either way.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Calm Down about the Hall of Fame and Other Things on my Mind

     The Hall of Fame elections, the most enjoyable part of the most boring baseball month of the year have just come and gone. The least enjoyable part is what happens after: Approximately 5,000 articles about why someone voted for player A, didn't vote for player B, whether you should vote for guys who took PEDs or not, Keith Olbermann's annual "they should shut down the hall of fame because the guys I like aren't there" rant and Jayson Stark using not one but two articles to express his disgust of the ten player per ballot rule. Now here's my take: Calm down.
     I love the Hall of Fame. I was lucky enough to go there when I was twelve, and it's by far the most important one between the four main sports, but with that said, it still doesn't really matter that much. Barry Bonds is the home run king and, the directions the game's headed, will still be it more quite some time whether we like it or not. Regardless of what happens, most people's perception of him won't change if he makes it in. It's all ceremonial. It's a great honor, but that's all. I believe that Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell should all be in there, but I'm not getting bent out of shape about it.
     I know I defended him a few weeks ago, but what the hell is Billy Beane doing? I've liked most of his moves, especially the Norris trade, but I don't even know how to react to him trading for Ben Zobrist. Oakland's clearly building for the future, so why would they trade a top shortstop prospect and former first round pick like Daniel Robertson for him? He hit .310/.402/.471 last year with 15 homers. Zobrist is a good, versatile player, but it just doesn't add up. What's especially perplexing about it is that the A's traded another shortstop prospect, Addison Russell last summer in the trade for Jeff Samardzija, making Robertson even more valuable.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

NFL Wildcard Round Playoff Picks

Cardinals vs. Panthers
Alright, we have a 7-8-1 team going up against a team starting their third string quarterback that lost four of their last six games, sounds like a great matchup! I have to take Carolina here just because of the Ryan Lindley factor.
The pick: Panthers
Ravens vs. Steelers
This is without a doubt the matchup I'm most excited for. We have the biggest rivalry in the league on primetime with an 80% chance of rain. While it will be tough for the Steelers to run the ball, with Le'Veon Bell out and Haloti Ngata returning from his suspension, I just can't see Antonio Brown not going nuts against a depleted Ravens secondary.
The pick: Steelers
Bengals vs. Colts
You won't find a bigger Andy Dalton fan outside of Cincinnati than me. Even if he hasn't been very good in the playoffs, he never seems to get enough credit for bringing his teams to the playoffs with a below average defense, and I'll always defend a fellow ginger. But with that said, he didn't look very good last week, and I can't bring myself to go against Andrew Luck, even on this Colts team without a running game.
The pick: Colts
Lions vs. Cowboys
Welcome to the Snakebite Bowl. These teams are 1-9 in the playoffs since 1997. Personally, I'm excited for when Fox shows the inevitable montage of crappy things that have happened to them the past 17 years and I get to relive this, probably the only season of the last ten years where I was happy for more than 50% of it. Anyway, It'll be tight, with the Lions' front four and the Cowboys' offensive line cancelling each other out, but I'll take Dallas because, a) the Lions will always be the Lions, and b) Tony Romo is having a seriously underrated season. Just one more tough defeat for Detroit.
The pick: Cowboys