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Mackey: Why Twins like Suzuki over Pinto

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#1 Parker Hageman

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 11:13 AM

The starting catcher’s job is almost a forgone conclusion that the position belongs to Kurt Suzuki to start the year. Josmil Pinto, with his impressive September campaign, will be in the passenger’s seat when the season begins on March 31 in Chicago.

1500ESPN.com’s Phil Mackey
outlines a few of the reasons why the Twins are going that route:

1.) The Twins have had some atrocious starting pitching lately, and they feel like Suzuki can help squeeze the most out of the current crop of pitchers.

2.) Pinto's game-calling and defensive skills still need a lot of refinement. The Twins want Suzuki's work ethic and good habits behind the scenes to rub off on Pinto, who could very well stay on the 25-man roster as the backup catcher who plays a couple times per week.

3.) Gardenhire loves Suzuki's vocal leadership, which is something the Twins don't have much of among position players. One player even compared Suzuki's presence to that of former Twins catcher Mike Redmond.


What’s interesting about Suzuki is the emphasis on his ability to handle pitchers, particularly his game-calling abilities. Last year, while splitting time between Washington and Oakland, Suzuki put the index finger down more than all catchers but one. His 63% fastball rate was well-above the league-average of 53%. This, of course, may have been a product of playing with the A’s (who as a staff had their catchers call for more fastballs than anybody 62.3%) and the Nationals (third with 60.9%).

But if Suzuki is simply following the game plan as outlined by the ability of the rotation and bullpen, how is it that he’s able to coax the most out of pitchers? Last year he was below the average in terms of getting strikes call that were outside of the zone and had a lower than average rate of strikes being called in zone. If that is the case, what sort of value is he actually providing?

As Mackey’s column points out, Ron Gardenhire and Glen Perkins both lauded Suzuki’s leadership skills, which is something than cannot be measured but can have a positive impact on a team in various ways. Perhaps the most impact will be to help Pinto’s defensive game improve quickly so his bat can be an everyday presence in the lineup.

#2 Willihammer

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 11:20 AM

It seems to be an organizational decision that pitchers prefer throwing to Suzuki, or will perform better throwing to Suzuki. Do pitchers actually prefer throwing to him? Has anyone asked?

#3 JB_Iowa

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 11:35 AM

I'm more intrigued by what he said about leadership -- and the comparison to Torii Hunter. I think that's why they were interested in bringing back A.J.P. I'm not sure they knew they would be getting that with Suzuki but I can only see it as a positive.

[COLOR=#000000][FONT=Verdana]"There's no doubt in my mind (Suzuki) will be that this year. He has so much respect in this clubhouse already. He's not afraid to get in a pitcher's face. 'Hey, that ain't good. We've got to do better.'"
[/FONT][/COLOR]
[COLOR=#000000][FONT=Verdana]
That's really something you can't expect from a rookie catcher. I'm hoping this all works out for the best. That Suzuki can get the pitchers started on the right course, that he is willing to mentor Pinto and that Pinto really learns from Suzuki, Steinbach and Mauer.

It could turn out to be the best thing that could happen to Pinto. It takes off some of the pressure of being starting catcher as a rookie -- and yet allows plenty of flexibility for Pinto to learn his craft. I would think that Pinto could learn a lot from sitting next to Steiny and watching Suzuki.[/FONT][/COLOR]

Edited by JB_Iowa, 18 March 2014 - 11:40 AM.


#4 longstrangetrip

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 12:30 PM

I don't have a huge problem with the decision to go with Suzuki, and I've been expecting it. But my preference would be to give the starting C role to Pinto. To me, the likely delta in offensive performance trumps the perceived difference in defensive ability, and is certainly more easily measured. Parker, thanks for throwing some cold water on Suzuki's reputation as a great defensive catcher. I have been skeptical also, and think much of his reputation has to do with having spent some time in pitcher-friendly Oakland. Two points brought up in support of Suzuki are overrated in my opinion:

1) the Redmond factor. Mackey talks about Suzuki having the potential to be a vocal leader and cites Mike Redmond as an example. This ignores the fact that Redmond did most of his vocal leadership from the dugout, having seldom been a starting catcher. Suzuki could play this role too from the dugout.
2) game calling. My opinion is that this is overrated also. The Twins have primarily a veteran staff now, and they are going to shake off a sign they don't agree with...whether it's Suzuki or Pinto giving it. Also, a lot of game calling happens before the game and in the dugout between innings. Anderson is talking with the pitcher and catcher about tendencies of the batters due up, and it doesn't take a genius to implement this in the subsequent inning.

As I said, I'm not going to lose sleep over the decision to go with Suzuki. But I believe the defensive differences are overstated, and the Twins could certainly use Pinto's pop in the lineup.

#5 ashburyjohn

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 12:34 PM

Ron Gardenhire and Glen Perkins both lauded Suzuki’s leadership skills, which is something than cannot be measured


Wins, maybe? Teammates' stats being better when he's the starter?

If the effect is there, but comes from him just being on the roster and a helpful presence every day, he can do that on the bench. Or stay on as a coach next year.

#6 Hosken Bombo Disco

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 12:37 PM

It might be a good idea to make Herrmann the 25th man, given Herrmann's versatility and expecting that Pinto could then DH some and Suzuki should be pinch hit for quite often.

#7 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 12:43 PM

I don't have a problem with Suzuki getting the nod out of Spring Training.

I do have a problem with Gardenhire suggesting that he will not DH Pinto when he's not behind the plate if the Twins don't carry a third catcher.

Sometimes, you just want to hit people with a logic hammer until they understand what should be common sense (ie. losing a DH for three innings 1-2 times a season does not matter).

ARGH. Ron Gardenhire. Sometimes, just... Sigh.

#8 spycake

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 12:54 PM

2.) Pinto's game-calling and defensive skills still need a lot of refinement. The Twins want Suzuki's work ethic and good habits behind the scenes to rub off on Pinto, who could very well stay on the 25-man roster as the backup catcher who plays a couple times per week.


From everything I've heard, Pinto has a pretty good work ethic/habits already. It would be pretty hard to last as a catcher through 8 pro seasons without that (albeit the first few were short season rookie leagues, but he's also caught in winter leagues in between). I wouldn't even bring up those terms if I were the Twins or one of their beat writers -- doesn't seem fair to Pinto. Hopefully that was just Mackey looking for pseudo-synonyms for game-calling/defensive stuff.

I think it boils down to Suzuki being a known veteran "gamer" (and not in the Lew Ford sense :) ) and having worked with successful MLB pitching staffs before. Not unreasonable, but, how much did Suzuki really contribute to those pitching staffs success? Curious if Jack Goin or the Twins have crunched any numbers on that, or if this is strictly up to the field generals. From the outside, it definitely looks like more of a political move than a baseball move, but that's not unique to the Twins or baseball. (I've seen amateur/semi-pro players endorse similar moves on their own teams.) Hopefully it is remedied sooner rather than later.

#9 JB_Iowa

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 01:08 PM

If Pinto's game calling and defensive skills improve over the spring/early summer AND if he continues to hit well AND if the Twins don't then gradually move from Suzuki as the primary starter to Pinto as the primary starter, THEN I think there will be room to complain.

But to use a veteran as the primary starter in the spring? I just don't see it as reason to gripe (despite the fact that offensively Suzuki leaves a lot to be desired).

Not being the primary starter takes an enormous burden off Pinto and allows him to ease into the primary starter role gradually. It allows him to learn Major League hitters, it allows him to learn more about the Twins pitchers. Give him the advantage that Aaron Hicks DIDN'T have last spring -- let him "earn" more starting time while still on the major league roster. There are plenty of games to go around -- especially when you are talking about the catcher position where injuries and being banged up are the norm.

(And there is some merit in Hosken's suggestion of Herrmann as the 25th man so that Pinto could get some additional AB's as the DH. I see alot more future merit in that than in bringing Kubel north).

#10 jharaldson

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 02:00 PM

Last year he was below the average in terms of getting strikes call that were outside of the zone and had a lower than average rate of strikes being called in zone. If that is the case, what sort of value is he actually providing?


Catching metrics are kind of odd because you are right that his pitch framing skills were below average but he was top 10 in preventing passed balls and wild pitches.

http://www.baseballp...php?cid=1656428

#11 jokin

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 02:24 PM

I don't have a problem with Suzuki getting the nod out of Spring Training.

I do have a problem with Gardenhire suggesting that he will not DH Pinto when he's not behind the plate if the Twins don't carry a third catcher.

Sometimes, you just want to hit people with a logic hammer until they understand what should be common sense (ie. losing a DH for three innings 1-2 times a season does not matter).

ARGH. Ron Gardenhire. Sometimes, just... Sigh.


Gardy would just "sigh" right back at you. (A hammer hit to the head would merely leave him dazed......but unfazed). Then he'd hand you the lineup, daring you to fill it out for him....and then finally say to you in a fit of exasperation: "C'mon, this is simple stuff!"

(And his admitted strategy for 2014 confirms more evidence to my theory that the Twns offensive production is destined to crater for the combined production from the C/1B/DH).

#12 Parker Hageman

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 02:54 PM

[COLOR=#333333]Catching metrics are kind of odd because you are right that his pitch framing skills were below average but he was top 10 in preventing passed balls and wild pitches. [/COLOR]


The comeback is that he had the second-highest among of fastball thrown his way rather than breaking balls which are "easier" (I say that lightly) to gather than those with slider/curve spin.

That's not to say he isn't good at blocking pitches, it is that he did have the advantage of seeing more fastballs.

#13 Parker Hageman

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 02:55 PM

[COLOR=#333333]Curious if Jack Goin or the Twins have crunched any numbers on that, or if this is strictly up to the field generals.[/COLOR]


The front office determines overall personnel and provides advice (like Goin's advice to bat Mauer second last year) but ultimately they let Gardenhire runs the team.

#14 jharaldson

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 03:39 PM

The comeback is that he had the second-highest among of fastball thrown his way rather than breaking balls which are "easier" (I say that lightly) to gather than those with slider/curve spin.

That's not to say he isn't good at blocking pitches, it is that he did have the advantage of seeing more fastballs.


I wonder if the fastball thing works against him in pitch framing. The ump can see the ball coming in on a straight line so the ump relies less on the glove/frame but a ball that moves more they are possibly looking more at the where it lands in the glove to detemine the strike.

Or again, maybe not. These catcher stats are still so new it is hard to get a good feel for what is real and what is bull.

#15 biggentleben

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 03:51 PM

I know Suzuki had a big time defensive reputation in Oakland, and strongly because of his reputation with young pitchers and with incredible athleticism behind the plate. Injuries have taken some of that away, but he still can move laterally at the position like very few can, so I'd believe the blocking pitches metrics, even if he is seeing more fastballs. A Tony Cingrani fastball is very different than a Stephen Strasburg fastball, even though both are similarly high in average registry. Jordan Zimmermann is known for the sink on his fastball, so his catcher would likely face more fastballs moving and in the dirt than an average fastball thrown. So there's still context to be referenced even in these metrics.
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#16 mike wants wins

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 03:55 PM

Math and stats are useless against believers. That's how the world works Parker. Gardenhire talks like a believer. Doesn't matter what numbers you show him, he see what he sees. Let's see how long bad veterans stay in the lineup over younger guys before complaining. But if I were a betting man, I'd bet many here will be complaining this summer.
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#17 TheLeviathan

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 04:35 PM

You know what would help me swallow the "we need a veteran to squeeze the most out of these guys!" argument a bit more? If our pitching staff was young.

If anything this veteran group of starting pitchers, with Suzuki as the 30 in a 70/30 split with Pinto, would be a double whammy of learning experience for Pinto.

But this group of pitchers shouldn't need Suzuki and it's maddening that the team believes they do.

#18 jokin

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 04:45 PM

You know what would help me swallow the "we need a veteran to squeeze the most out of these guys!" argument a bit more? If our pitching staff was young.

If anything this veteran group of starting pitchers, with Suzuki as the 30 in a 70/30 split with Pinto, would be a double whammy of learning experience for Pinto.

But this group of pitchers shouldn't need Suzuki and it's maddening that the team believes they do.


With Doumit and Butera gone, wasn't it likely that Gardy is the one who made the "maddening" case to management and "won" that case? My impression is, right or wrong, he would feel utterly lost with a EASL rookie and a series of marginal and inexperienced players manning what he sees as his most important field position.

The "leadership" angle also really jumps out as in interesting aside, mentioning Torrii Hunter, AJ and Suzuki, but not Mauer.

#19 Riverbrian

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 05:21 PM

If Pinto is coming North... And If Pinto hits like he did September and Suzuki hits like he has for the past few years.

This concern won't last long.

Suzuki is insurance in case Pinto struggles... He a locker room guy... He's an experienced game caller.

If Pinto plays ball like we hope. The situation will reverse in fairly quick fashion.

Not signing Suzuki puts Fryer behind Pinto and if Pinto struggles... (Gulp).
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#20 TheLeviathan

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 06:24 PM

Not signing Suzuki puts Fryer behind Pinto and if Pinto struggles... (Gulp).


I'm very ok with signing Suzuki. I think a split role, at minimum, is a wise move.

But the notion the veteran pitching staff needs Suzuki? Blech.

#21 jm3319

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 06:59 PM

The "leadership" angle also really jumps out as in interesting aside, mentioning Torrii Hunter, AJ and Suzuki, but not Mauer.


You missed a key word from the quote: "vocal" leadership. Everyone knows Mauer isn't a vocal guy. Doesn't mean he isn't a leader.

#22 spycake

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 08:25 PM

The front office determines overall personnel and provides advice (like Goin's advice to bat Mauer second last year) but ultimately they let Gardenhire runs the team.


Thanks Parker. I was also thinking about Suzuki's acquisition, and if that was in any way influenced by come number-crunching. I suspect it wasn't, as he wasn't even their first or second choice among free agent catchers.

#23 cmathewson

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 10:10 PM

Watched Suziki work tonight. He looked good, but he can't execute pitches for the pitcher. And Worley can't execute pitches for himself.... So, there's the rub with pitch calling and Game management. You need arms to implement the catcher's recommendations. He did look good gunning down a runner. But I sure hope he gets offensive help.

Herman would be oK offensively, but he is not in Pinto'class. And Hermann looked bad on blocking pitches and framing tonight. Pinto is the much needed defensive backup.
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#24 BigTrane

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 07:05 AM

Completely agree on the Kubel point, and overall with the whole transition question.

People around these parts have been fairly "uneasy" about the Suzuki deal and the question of the starter/backup transition details... personally, I think it's a smart move to have a vet in to guide the new guy and help him make the transition. Did everybody forget the Hicks experiment already?

Putting some resources ($) and effort into making sure that Pinto makes the transition and develops into a complete player is unassailable. If people are just antsy for his bat, then I understand.... but what else would he bring behind the plate at this point? He's got work to do yet, but with the proper mentoring could be the long-term solution we all want.

Suzuki will likely be a black hole with the bat, granted, but if we're looking for offensive production from catcher to ignite our run production, then we're already lost in the weeds.

The idea of investing in successful player development/transitioning successfully to the Bigs should be at the top of everyone's list right now. We're all chomping at the bit to see the new wave come up. Who wants to see that crash and burn... what then?

As for our rotation, yes, we d**n well need everything we can get out of them- who thinks we have superior/dominant rotation? Given the catchers available at the time Suzuki signed (and the price), I think we did great.
Feel free to pile on about Suzuki.

#25 stringer bell

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 08:12 AM

This is the most veteran rotation the Twins have put together in some time Nolasco (31, 7.8 yrs), Correia (33, 9 yrs.), Phil Hughes (27, 6.7 yrs.) and Mike Pelfrey (30, 6.8 yrs.) are the locks for the rotation. Two other contenders are Diamond (27) and Deduno (30). I don't really see the need for a veteran catcher. That said, having Suzuki as a backup plan and mentor for Pinto makes sense. I, too, want Pinto to catch more games than Suzuki this year.

I'll continue to support Gardy about not using his second catcher as a DH. Not so much because of the catastrophic scenario, but because it limits hitting and running for two guys who often should be hit or run for.

#26 mike wants wins

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 08:17 AM

If Pinto is your best DH option, he should DH. You pinch hit and run 1 time a game, you don't give up 3 at bats in case you might need to hit or run for him in the last at bat.
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#27 Willihammer

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 08:50 AM

Interview with Steinbach about Suzuki and catching stuff on espn Twins page.

http://www.1500espn....ortswire/twins#

#28 jay

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Posted 20 March 2014 - 06:58 AM

I'm very ok with signing Suzuki. I think a split role, at minimum, is a wise move.

But the notion the veteran pitching staff needs Suzuki? Blech.


With you here.

If they were to split catching for the whole year, how many games does Pinto need at DH to justify keeping him on the MLB roster vs the alternative of playing every day in AAA?

#29 mike wants wins

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Posted 20 March 2014 - 07:50 AM

Would he DH in AAA? Or, would he catch 60% of the time, and how is that really different than catching half the time here?
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#30 spycake

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Posted 20 March 2014 - 08:17 AM

Suzuki will likely be a black hole with the bat, granted, but if we're looking for offensive production from catcher to ignite our run production, then we're already lost in the weeds.


Where have we heard this before, though? To paraphrase a common argument in our shortstop threads: "Florimon will likely be a black hole with the bat, granted, but if we're looking for offensive production from the number 9 hitter to ignite our run production, then we're already lost in the weeds."

We're apparently also using some milder variation of this excuse for 3B, DH, and maybe an OF spot or two. At what point does it stop? Yes, any one of these guys probably wouldn't derail the '27 Yankees by themselves, but that doesn't justify collecting 6 of them on the 2014 Twins.

Also, the catcher spot was the main driver of our run production last year, when our offense looked rather lost in the weeds already. Significantly downgrading at the position isn't a lateral move, it's getting further lost in the weeds (absent major changes elsewhere).