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  1. Like
    bdodge22 reacted to Ted Schwerzler for a blog entry, A Rift at the Top in Minnesota?   
    The Minnesota Twins front office is sure making a habit of blundering important decisions here in September. With respect to Byron Buxton, and the late season promotions, there's plenty of head-scratching and hand-wringing to be observed. At this current juncture, it's maybe worth speculating if everyone isn't on the same page?
    Over the course of the 2018 major league season, I have found myself as a supporter of the new front office. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had an exceptional offseason, and they positioned this Twins club for success in the current season. As everything has gone up in flames however, their responses have seemed less than satisfactory. Now as real adversity creeps in, we may be seeing some cracks in the armor as well.
    Obviously the biggest misstep thus far has been the handling of Byron Buxton. This isn't the space to rehash that situation, but I believe I did a good job of explaining the situation here. Looking back at it however, something has stuck out to me, and that's the quote from Thad Levine to Mike Berardino. Minnesota's GM said, “Their recourse has not been laid out to us. They’re certainly entitled to whatever they think is in the best interest of Byron Buxton. From this day forward, I think we recognize a responsibility to make amends and that we’re going to need to invest in the relationship with Byron Buxton. We understand this is a blow to the player, a potential blow to the relationship."
    In analyzing that quote, it's hard not to wonder why the Twins GM is being so open and candid about the situation as a whole. He talked about service time implications to the media as well, and the suggestion that this team decision could be potentially damaging to a long term relationship speaks volumes. As the only member of the front office to speak on the decision thus far, it's hard not to speculate as to whether Thad is simply acting as the orator here, and there's some dissension in the room.
    Derek Falvey is 35 years-old and holds the title of Chief Baseball Officer for the Minnesota Twins. His top rank previously was the title of Assistant General Manager for the Cleveland Indians. While he's obviously skilled and qualified for the role in which he's been enlisted, there's also an equally capable and qualified network of support around him. When making such delicate decisions, it's more than fair to wonder whether or not his peers all jump onto the same page.
    When it comes to head-scratching options, Minnesota embarked on another when they revealed their full list of September call-ups. On top of the egregious missing name in Buxton, neither Nick Anderson or Jake Reed saw their names included among the group either. The Twins are currently 63-74, 14.0 games out of the AL Central, and have nothing left to play for in 2018. With those parameters, September immediately becomes a breeding ground for acclimation and assimilation with talent that could prove useful on the 2019 Opening Day roster. Except the Twins chose to forego that route.
    It's great that John Curtiss, Chase De Jong and Tyler Duffey found themselves recalled, but so too did Chris Gimenez, Gregorio Petit, and Johnny Field. The latter three players represent veteran retreads that have no real value on a big league bench. Given the current state of the team in Minnesota, Mitch Garver or Jake Cave losing at bats to that duo seems counter productive. On top of that, the Twins left a stocked cupboard and closed the door. There's two spots still open on the 40 man roster, and of the 40 spots available on the active roster in September, only used 34 of them.
    Anderson, a Minnesota native, turned in a 3.30 ERA, 13.2 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9 across 60.0 IP for Triple-A Rochester this season. Jake Reed posted a 1.89 ERA and 9.4 K/9 in 47.2 IP, and owned an even better 1.16 ERA in his last 31.0 IP. After signing multiple relief arms to short term deals this winter, squeezing out all the available talent within the organization seems like a smart blueprint. Given that neither now have an opportunity at the major league level in September, their afforded sample size will be a minimal one during big league camp (assuming they are invited, and still around).
    Without being behind closed doors, it's impossible to know what Derek Falvey's impact on each decision is. It's also unfair to assume how he is viewed by his peers. What is absolutely certain though, is that there's a danger to always believing you're the smartest person in any given room. If the operating tactics are less collaborative than the amount the term has been used by the head honcho, it's hard to see how lackluster buy in is a positive.
    Maybe Levine's comments surrounding Buxton are nothing more than they appear on the surface. Maybe no one in the front office saw the idea to waste the opportunity September roster expansion provides as a bad thing. Maybe everyone truly is on the same page. If that's the case though, we might be in even more trouble than it seems.
    For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  2. Like
    bdodge22 reacted to Ted Schwerzler for a blog entry, One Day Makes Twins Difference   
    Over the weekend, Minnesota Twins fans felt the full gambit of emotions. After announcing that Anibal Sanchez had been given a major league deal, frustration was felt in full force. A bounce-back candidate that has ugly numbers of late wasn't going to gain much confidence for a revamped starting rotation. Then, a day later, Jake Odorrizi was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays and the tide felt like it had turned. Putting a bow on the Minnesota offseason, it's hard not to like where this team is headed.
    Going into the offseason, the Twins had one focus in hopes of returning to Postseason play, fix the pitching. The 4.60 team ERA in 2017 came in 19th among MLB clubs, and the 7.31 K/9 was better than only the Texas Rangers. Both in the rotation and the pen, Paul Molitor's club needed better names and the ability to miss more bats. From the jump, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine knew this was where the focus had to be, and it appeared they had a plan to execute on.
    Signing Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke, the Twins bring in two arms with little risk and a relatively high upside. Rodney is an experience, but his 10.6 K/9 is an asset, and he allows arms like Trevor Hildenberger to be deployed outside of the 9th inning. Duke isn't just a LOOGY, and he too is a punchout pitcher when healthy. There's little arguing that Addison Reed was the pen headliner this winter however. After signing a 2yr/$16.75M deal with Minnesota, Falvey and Levine had somehow landed one of the premier options on what looked like a budget deal. Yet to hit 30, Reed owns a career 9.5 K/9 and a 2/3 BB/9 that makes him arguably the best arm in Minnesota's relief corps.
    While it's hard to overstate the importance of the three relief acquisitions on their own merits, it's also big to note what their inclusion does for Paul Molitor as a whole. Instead of rounding out the pen with toss in names, the Twins can now rely on arms like Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers, and Ryan Pressly as complimentary pieces. Again, with the goal being a raised water level across the board, the front office accomplished that to a T in the pen.
    From the outset of the winter Minnesota was tied to starter Yu Darvish. Given all of the factors, a union of the two sides made an immeasurable amount of sense from the home town perspective. Unfortunately, Darvish chose to sign with the Chicago Cubs in the end. Falvey and Levine may have ruled themselves out by failing to match the Cubs offer, but the likelihood always remained that the former Rangers ace wanted a bigger market than the up and coming Twins. While a tough blow for sure, there's no sense of settling either.
    With Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, and Jake Arrieta all having their warts, the remaining top tier free agents left a decent bit to be desired. Draft pick compensation was tied to each of them, and the dollar ask would likely not be in the line with the expected level of production. Although I'll always be of the stance that you should spend from an unlimited cash pool as opposed to dealing from a limited talent pool in acquiring players, Minnesota found a way to make things look better the opposite way.
    Netting Jake Odorizzi from the Tampa Bay Rays, the Twins gave up little more than a flier middle infielder. Jermaine Palacios went on a tear to start the 2017 season at Cedar Rapids, but struggled mightily as a 20 year-old at High-A Fort Myers. Odorizzi is a soon-to-be 28 year-old under team control for two more years, and immediately slots in among Minnesota's top three. Despite tallying his worst season as a pro in 2017, the numbers still equated to a 4.14 ERA and an 8.0 K/9. For the former Rays hurler, a 5.14 FIP and 3.8 BB/9 leave plenty of room for growth. His HR/9 rate spiked to 1.9 a season ago, and there's been plenty made about the idea that getting down in the zone could be a key to expanded success.
    Not the headliner that Odorizzi is for Minnesota, Anibal Sanchez being brought in as a depth signing looks much better than when it was originally reported. I still think it's odd the deal needed to be of the MLB sort, guaranteeing a current 40 man roster spot despite it being uncertain that he'll make the opening day roster. The ERA there is awful, but the 8.9 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 are great marks. Sanchez posted a 2.52 FIP in his first two seasons with the Tigers, and then ballooned to a 5.01 mark the past three years. After never allowing home runs, he's gotten worse the last three seasons going from 1.7 to 1.8 to 2.2 HR/9. If Falvey saw a correctable adjustment to keep the ball in the park, that contract could end up being a steal for the Twins.
    As with the bullpen, the goal in the rotation was to raise the overall water level. Now with Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, and Ervin Santana locked in as the top three, Minnesota has an enhanced level of depth to fill out the back end. Nothing is guaranteed for Adalberto Mejia, Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, or Sanchez in terms of a rotation spot. They'll all be pushed by the likes of Stephen Gonsalves, Fernado Romero, Zack Littell, and Dietrich Enns. For a club that used way too many arms, and saw a vast level of ineffectiveness at times a season ago, the situation as a whole looks much better entering 2018.
    Given the current roster construction, I'd imagine the Twins are done adding arms. They probably have room for a bat on a minor league deal, and 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson has been suggesting that could be Mike Napoli for weeks now. The Rays recently DFA'd Corey Dickerson, and he'd be a huge addition for Minnesota as well. Regardless, if another move is coming, it's probably a less noteworthy offensive addition.
    With the dust now settled, it's hard to look back on the offseason with any sort of displeasure. There was one ace out there, and the Twins chance was always a long shot. They added significant pitching in the bullpen, grabbed a good arm for the rotation, and added a couple of fliers along the way. While the division, including the Cleveland Indians, got worse, Minnesota retained it's talent and added pieces. The American League is going to be tough in 2018, with teams like the Yankees an Angels both getting better. For Minnesota, the Postseason may have to come through their own division, and you have to like how they positioned themselves for this season and beyond.
    For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  3. Like
    bdodge22 reacted to Jamie Cameron for a blog entry, Bullish - The Upside of the 2018 Bullpen   
    Kintzler, Duffey, Pressly, Belisle, Rogers, Hughes, Hildenberger, Gee, Boshers, Busenitz, Breslow, Tonkin, Haley, Turley, Slegers, Wilk, Curtiss, Wimmers, Moya, Perkins, Rucinski, Enns, Melville, Wheeler, Rosario, Tepesch, Heston, and Chris Gimenez. These are the 27 pitchers and one intrepid catcher who made up the Twins relief pitching corps in 2017. By sheer volume alone, the Twins bullpen left a lot to be desired in 2017. There were some bright spots. Brandon Kintzler, who departed to the Nationals via trade, was excellent. Trevor Hildenberger, whose unique approach should make him a staple of the Twins bullpen for the foreseeable future, emerged as a potential bullpen star. The rest of the pen was about as effective as a Matt Asiata run up in middle from inside the five yard line. So where did the Twins stack up against other bullpens when the 2017 season was all said and done?
    2017 Bullpen Performance
    Just for the sake of comparison, the Yankees, whose relievers threw an arsenal of sonic-boom inducing fastballs that blew the Twins straight out of the wild card game, used 19 relief pitchers last season. The Dodgers, who had an exceptional bullpen, also used 19. While the number of relievers used is hardly an important metric, it is indicative of a contrast in stability in some of MLB’s top bullpens, and that of the Twins.
    Minnesota’s bullpen pen logged the tenth most innings of any bullpen in 2017 (looking at you Kyle Gibson and Adalberto Mejia), struck out the fifth fewest hitters (482), and walked the seventh fewest number of hitters (187). Tale as old as time, right? So far, we’ve established that the pen was overworked, didn’t walk many guys, and didn’t strike a lot out either. What about when opposing hitters made contact? The Twins had a significant issue here, giving up the fourth worst Hard% (hard contact percentage) and generating the second worst Soft% (soft contact percentage, significant because there’s a medium contact %) in the league. Essentially, when the Twins gave up contact to opposing hitters, they made a lot of good contact. The Twins bullpen performance in 2017 was actually similar to 2016 (a difference of 0.1 in bullpen WAR), accomplished in a very different way. In short, the pen needed a significant overhaul before the 2018 season. In an organization with a strong offensive lineup and in a market where high level starting pitching is difficult to attract via free agency, the bullpen was the lowest hanging fruit for the Twins front office to attack during free agency.
    What was Missing?
    So what was the Twins bullpen lacking? One area the Twins pen did improve in 2017 was generating groundballs, improving from 23rd in MLB in 2016, to 12th in 2017. This is an area of strength the Twins chose to build upon in 2018, adding Zach Duke and Fernando Rodney to one year deals. In Duke’s last full season before injury, he logged a GB% of 58%, which is elite. Rodney wasn’t too shabby himself, generating GB% of 52% in 2017.
    Looking at the most effective bullpens of 2017, an even more integral stat is K/9. This makes a ton of sense, not much can go wrong if you’re striking hitters out on a consistent basis. In 2017, there were 9 teams with a bullpen K/9 of at least 9.5. Between them, these clubs averaged a WAR of 6.5 for their bullpen. The Twins bullpen WAR in 2017 was 2.2, not a disaster, good for 22nd in MLB. By K/9, the Twins ranked 29th, with just 7.66 strikeouts per nine innings. Hardly surprising, when you are cycling through nearly 30 relievers over the course of the season. So how do the Twins new additions stack up in generating more strikeouts?
    In short, pretty darn well. If you average out the K/9 for Duke, Rodney, and Reed over their last two full seasons of pitching (excluding years significantly impacted by injury), they sit at an average K/9 of 10.00. That’s the kind of strikeout power you want sitting at the back end of your bullpen, particularly if you throw Hildenberger’s 2017 K/9 of 9.43 into the mix too. While past performance isn’t necessarily a good indicator of future results, this is certainly an encouraging trend in remedying a weakness Twins fans have bemoaned, and has impeded the team for years.
    Apples and Oranges?
    The Twins additions are even more interesting if considered in comparison to another team attempting to ramp up the quality of their bullpen, the Rockies. Colorado spent a Ron Swanson-esque ‘all of the money’ on adding Wade Davis, Jake McGee, and Bryan Shaw this offseason. The Rockies added their relief upgrades for a cost of $30.5 million in 2018. The Twins, by contrast, added Duke, Rodney, and Reed for around $14.65 million in 2018, or around $1.5 million less than it took the Rockies to sign Davis alone for a single year. The average of the Rockies additions K/9 over their last two full seasons pitched is 9.39. While they offer more consistency than a back end containing an ageing Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke returning from Tommy John surgery, the comparison is striking.
    There are two more avenues which make this comparison interesting. When looking at the cumulative WAR of the three new relief pitching options for each team over the last two seasons, the Twins trio contributed 6.3 WAR, to the Rockies triumvirates 5.2. While WAR has been put through the ringer in the baseball writing community recently, it is, if nothing else, a useful starting point for a comparison.
    Perhaps the Rockies new additions were so much more highly paid because they pitched in higher leverage situations, earning the moniker of ‘super-reliever’ for their respective 2017 teams? WPA (Win Probability Added) examines changes in win probability and reflects how much a player impacted their team’s chances of winning a game. Duke, Rodney and Reed combined for a WPA of 6.08 in their last full season pitched (using 2016 for Duke as 2017 was lost to injury), compared to Davis, McGee, and Shaw’s combined 5.52 in 2017. While the majority of WPA and WAR added for each team was bound up in Reed for the Twins and Davis for the Rockies, comparing the additions in groups of three offers a glimpse at what their cumulative impact on their new teams might be in 2018 in the highest leverage situations each team will face.
    This is not to say the Twins signed three better guys than the Rockies, but for a team with their bottom line, they added a significant amount of upside for excellent value, in an area that badly needed to be addressed. As a smaller market team, the Twins don’t have the luxury not to consider short and long term viability when balancing the upside of their free agent signings with the cost it takes to sign them. While the Twins likely won’t have one of the top bullpens in MLB next year, consider the floor significantly raised. If Rodney, Duke, and Reed can maintain a similar level of performance, the Twins will have a much improved pen, cemented by a particularly strong back end that closes the gap between Minnesota and Cleveland.
  4. Like
    bdodge22 reacted to Hosken Bombo Disco for a blog entry, On acquiring Yu Darvish or Gerrit Cole   
    On Monday, Rhett Bollinger of MLB wrote that the Minnesota Twins are still more likely to upgrade their pitching rotation for 2018 through free agency than by trade.
    And on Tuesday, MLB Trade Rumors reported off of a 1500 ESPN tweet that pitchers’ agents were getting the sense that the Twins (i.e., Derek Falvey and Thad Levine) were putting off talks until Yu Darvish announces his decision to sign.
    Reading between the lines, one can interpret these reports to mean that the Twins have not been in much communication with free agent pitchers waiting to sign contracts this offseason.
    But does an absence of communication mean that the Twins are failing to communicate?
    A story Thursday in the New York Times (h/t dougd) suggests that Levine is one of the more skilled baseball executives in using alternative means to communicate (such as text messaging) with players, agents, or other major league personnel.

    "...today, we negotiate hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts and make massive trades without ever picking up the phone and speaking directly with one another, let alone meeting face to face,” Levine said. “You kind of learn the personalities of guys—who needs a phone call, who can do it on text, who prefers emails, who likes to be lighthearted.
    "The art of the negotiation has almost been trumped by the art of communication."  
    This makes the news that the Twins have not met in person with Darvish much easier to take.
    Meanwhile, back in December, the Twins were reportedly offered Gerrit Cole in exchange for prospects Nick Gordon, Zack Granite, and Tyler Jay, according to the news site Pirates Breakdown.
    Many Twins fans, including myself, liked this trade idea. (See here, here, here, or here —and the proposals offered by Twins fans in these threads were actually not far off the mark in terms of value.)
    The stat we know as WAR is not how we evaluate pitchers during the season, but it can be a good, broad gauge of general value.
    In terms of fWAR, the two sides of a Cole/Gordon/Granite trade match up well. Fangraphs projects Cole to provide 3.8 fWAR in 2018; let's add 3.8 fWAR more for 2019. That makes 7.6 fWAR for the final two team-controlled seasons of Cole coming from Pittsburgh. How much fWAR will the Twins prospects provide? The 2017 midseason KATOH+ projections estimate that Granite will contribute 6.8 fWAR through his six team-controlled MLB seasons, while Gordon will accumulate 6.3 worth of fWAR across his six seasons. Throw in a generous 2.0 fWAR for Jay as a relief pitcher, and the total contribution of the prospects coming from the Twins is 15.1 fWAR.
    In such a Gerrit Cole trade as proposed above, the Twins would trade away a future 15.1 fWAR in exchange for Cole’s 7.6 fWAR as a starter for the next two seasons.
    That looks unequal, but posters on the Dozier trade discussion threads last winter found that MLB-for-prospect trades often lean heavily to one side in this way. A risk premium on the speculative nature of unpredictable prospects, perhaps.
    In any case, the barstool argument in favor of the trade may be more effective than the mathematical or financial analysis. Gordon and Granite are good players, but their production can be replaced. The Twins have Jermaine Palacios and Royce Lewis playing shortstop in the minors behind Nick Gordon, and have Jorge Polanco and other capable shortstops on the Major League team already. As for Granite, I would not count on him getting enough playing time to contribute much fWAR anyway, the maturing young Twins outfield being what it is. And the bottom line is the Twins badly need starting pitching in 2018.
    Now compare Cole to Darvish. Fangraphs projects Cole for 3.8 fWAR in 2018, while Darvish is projected only for 3.6 fWAR in 2018. Consider that Darvish’s contract will fetch more than $20 million per season for each of the next five or six seasons; Cole will not earn $20 million over the next two seasons together. Moreover, Cole might be motivated to pitch his best in order to increase his value in free agency following 2019.
    Through the quiet offseason to this point, and assuming Pittsburgh is still interested in a trade, Cole has looked like a solid alternative to Yu Darvish, maybe even better. Cole is younger and will not tie up salary beyond 2019, and might even present a July trade opportunity for the Twins if the 2019 season goes sideways.
    Beyond 2018 and 2019, the success of the Twins will depend on their ability to develop their own starting pitching. Darvish might help win some games in future seasons, but those wins will cost a lot of money, and possibly at the expense of extending one or two of the Twins young outfielders.
    Levine’s "negotiation" with Darvish this winter has put me at ease somewhat. Levine's knowledge of Darvish from their days in Texas suggests to me that the Twins are not concerned about Darvish’s health, nor his motivation to pitch after he signs this nine-figure deal. And a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow; figure on that annual salary at the end of Darvish’s contract to not look so bad as it does now, once those latter years finally arrive.
    I still prefer a trade for Cole, combined perhaps with a signing of Alex Cobb. But if the Twins really do sign Darvish — and my gut gives them a better than 50/50 chance at it — I imagine I will be amazed, thrilled, and fired up for the 2018 season. Such a signing will instantly put Minnesota almost on par with most other teams in the American League, and will give them a dependable arm for the next several seasons.
    But it's Darvish’s decision to make. If Levine has misjudged Darvish and Darvish chooses to sign with another team, and other subsequent options fail to break for the Twins, the Twins would find themselves going into 2018 without the addition of a single starting pitcher. For a young, talented team that made a strong run in 2017, this would be quite a blow. To borrow a great metaphor from another TwinsDaily poster in another thread, the Twins are playing a game of musical chairs, and if Darvish signs with another team, the Twins might find themselves without a chair when the music stops.
    Let's hope the personal relationship and commitment Thad Levine and Yu Darvish have together is real. My gut tells me it is.
  5. Like
    bdodge22 reacted to Jamie Cameron for a blog entry, HildenWho?   
    Hildenwho? Was my thought when I first saw Trevor Hildenberger pitch for the Minnesota Twins. I hadn’t heard much about him aside from rumblings he was performing consistently well at AAA Rochester. The then 26 year old was drafted in 22nd round of the 2014 amateur player draft out of UC Berkley. He was pick 650 overall, but who’s counting? This was all news to me. The Twins had been through a dearth of ho-hum relievers on their way to a typically mediocre bullpen. I didn’t pay much attention to Hildenberger, thinking he might not last long in the majors. What a considerable miscalculation that was.
    Hildenberger had good MiLB numbers, but I had no idea how dominant he was. In any MiLB stint in which Hildenberger pitched at least 20 innings, he never had a K/9 of under 9.6, and never had a GB% lower than 53%. He topped out at 11.8 K/9 at low A. His GB% peaked at 67%. To put that into some major league perspective, only 4 guys who threw at least 40 innings in 2017 had a GB% higher than 67% (one of whom, Scott Alexander, the Dodgers saw fit to trade for as a replacement for Tony Watson in their bullpen). Granted, Hildenberger was at high A, but the signs were promising. Hildenberger had consistently shown an ability to do two things which in combination can make a reliever elite; get lots of strikeouts and induce a ton of ground balls.
    Fastforward to June of 2017 and Hildenberger makes his MLB debut. Before continuing, it’s worth pointing out that Hildenberger has a pretty small MLB sample size to date. This is therefore more of a commentary on what has been, rather than a prediction of what will be. In 2017, Hildenberger finished his rookie season with a GB% of 58.8%. This was good for 13th among relievers who threw at least 40 innings. If you add the criterion of relief pitchers who had K/9 greater than 9, Hildenberger is one of 23 relievers across major league baseball to combine these rather useful traits (he ranks 10th by K/9 from the qualified list). Hildenberger ranked right above Bryan Shaw, who just signed a 3 year pact with the Rockies for $27 million, (Hildenberger will make almost nothing by comparison in 2018). The top two names on this list are Nationals Ryan Madson, and Pirates Felipe Rivero. Both Madson and Rivero were elite relief pitchers last year, combining for a WAR of 4 and averaging an xFIP of 2.72 between them. Madson and Rivero are a fascinating duo of names in part are so entirely different from Hildenberger, both rely heavily on their velocity. So what makes Hildenberger so good? And what makes him able to generate such a high level of ground balls and strikeouts?
    On a surface level, Hildenberger is unusual when you take a closer look at his velocity as a pitcher. At first glance, Hildenberger seems like a soft tossing side-armer. This is not the case. Despite not using it much, Hildenberger’s fastball showed a steady increase in velocity from June to October in his first big league season, from just under 91 mph in July, up to a season high of 94.78 mph in October.
    The aforementioned Felipe Rivero and Hildenberger share a fascinating skill, an excellent changeup. Rivero threw his changeup around 20% of the time in 2017, to Hildenberger’s 35%. Both however, are a significant value add for each pitcher. Hildenberger and Rivero have a similar velocity differential between their highest and lowest velocity pitch (between 15-16 mph on average). Hildenberger’s approach differs because he throws his fastball just 13% of the time. Contrarily to the majority of pitchers who use their fastball to set up their off-speed pitches, Hildenberger is constantly working off-speed (35% changeups) and uses a surprisingly competent fastball to keep hitters honest. While Hildenberger’s sinker and changeup are vastly superior pitches, his use of velocity is an example of how his unconventional means keep hitters off balance.
    Release Point
    The next aspect of Hildenberger’s unusual approach that merits some thought is his release point, or rather, points. Simply put, a release point is the combination of horizontal and vertical coordinates from which a pitchers releases the ball. Higher release points tend to produce more sink, more extreme horizontal release points tend to create more horizontal action throughout the plane of the pitch.
    The chart below shows Felipe Rivero’s vertical release point (in feet) throughout the 2017 season for his four pitches. Many pitchers, like Rivero have pretty consistent release points, born of mechanics which have been tuned and honed over many years. Rivero’s fastball has an average release point of 5.69 feet, while his slider has an average release point of 5.43, a differential of .26 feet between his highest and lowest release points. By contrast, the average vertical release point of Hildenberger’s fastball is 5.6 feet, while his average release of his changeup is 4.13 feet, good for a differential of 1.47 feet. Hildenberger has an incredibly low and difficult to pick up release point for pitches he throws 70% of the time (his sinker and changeup), simply because hitters rarely see baseballs coming towards the strike zone from such a height, or lack thereof. Additionally, Hildenberger has a huge differential between his different arm slots. In essence, facing Hildenberger throwing a fastball versus Hildenberger throwing a changeup is like facing two completely different pitchers in the same sequence of pitches.


    While the horizontal point of release does not make for quite such an impressive contrast, a similar disparity exists, both comparing Hildenberger to other pitchers and within his own pitch mix. In short, Hildenberger’s inconsistency in his vertical and horizontal release points go a long way to overcoming the limitations of his lack of velocity.
    The Twins seem likely to let Fernando Rodney handle ninth inning duties as closer in 2018. Hildenberger made an incredibly impressive debut in 2017 using extraordinary means to pile up extraordinary results. He will likely assume the mantle of the relief pitcher used most frequently in high leverage situations moving forwards. This is a spot Twins fans should feel comfortable with ‘Hildy’ occupying. After all, he’s already proved he can. Minnesota, get to know your real bullpen MVP.
  6. Like
    bdodge22 reacted to Matthew Lenz for a blog entry, Mauer's Future   
    This article was originally posted back in January, but with Mauer's 2000th hit Tom wanted various Mauer articles. I haven't changed much, but have added more data to support my opinion. I'd also just like to mention that I did not change my opinion on a potential salary for 2019 and beyond despite his torrid start to the season.
    It's no secret that Joe Mauer is entering the final year of his 8 year, $184 million contract extension signed in 2010. It's also not a secret that Mauer isn't the player he was in 2009 or in the years leading up to that MVP season. What does seem to be a secret, is what thoughts "Falvine" has on Mauer's future past the 2018 season. There are really only three options, which I will breakdown below.
    1. Stay with the Twins
    Personally, I think this is the most likely scenario. He's from here, his family is here, he's spent his entire career here, his personality and demeanor (although frustrating to fans) fits well with the "Minnesota nice" mantra, and the Twins are starting to become contenders. So what will it take for the Twins to keep him here?
    Since his move to 1st base (2012) Mauer has played 813 games as a first basemen, which is good for 13th most among 50 qualified players. In that same time he has provided a 14.7 WAR which is good for 10th best:
    The "good": he's staying healthier, he's getting on base (6/50 in BA and 5/50 in OBP), and he's become one of the best defensive 1B in the game (#1 in UZR in 2017 among 21 qualified players).
    The "bad": he'll be 36 in April of 2019 (only 6 qualified players were 36+ years old in '17), he provides no power as a 1B/DH (42/50 in SLG from 2012-2017), despite being healthier he's still good to miss at least 20 games/year not including the days provides no defensive value as a DH.

    I think it's fair to assume that 2017 is the ceiling of what we can expect from Mauer in 2018 and beyond, although he has been lights out so far this season. Looking at salaries for players who are currently 36+ years old, 2017 and 2018 contract agreements, and salaries of other 1B around the league I would be looking for the Twins to give Mauer a 2-3 year deal at $8-$10 million/year not including incentives or player/team options. Again, I believe him signing with the Twins is the most likely scenario.
    I came up with the $8 - $10 million range from looking at the following data.
    Yonder Alonso signed with the Indians for $8mil per year. Comparatively to Mauer, he provides a little more power, less OBP, and a lot less defense. He's younger, coming off a career year, and also fits the "launch angle" ideal that so many hitters are trending towards. Ultimately, my opinion is that the pros and cons of both players provide a similar value to a team although the type of value they provide are different. I think that provides a sort of base line going into next offseason.
    I also looked at players that signed in 2016/2017 offseason who were 36+ years old and although the median salary was 7.75 million a few of those guys are getting paid $13 & $16 million.If I were to include 35+ year olds, which is technically how old Mauer will be at the start of the 2019 season, the median is at $8 million and includes Yadier Molina (a career long Cardinal) getting paid $20 million. Although the median is lower, I think the higher deals give Mauer/Shapiro some room to negotiate an above the median salary. Especially if Mauer performs similarliy to how he did in 2017 and/or is able to hit like he currently is for a majority of 2018.
    2. Sign Elsewhere
    I don't see this happening, but obviously this is a possibility. Assuming Mauer only has a few more years in the big leagues, he could be looking for a team to win now. Now being 2019 or 2020. Depending on what the Twins FO does in free agency over the next couple years the Twins may or may not be legit world series contenders in 2019 or 2020. I hate to say it but with Greg Bird not being able to stay healthy the Yankees may have an opening at first base that would be a good fit for Mauer. Teams like Houston, Boston, Chicago (NL), Dodgers, Indians and Nationals are also obvious contenders, but currently have a player who is under contract at 1st base.
    3. Retire
    From what I have read/heard, there hasn't been any rumblings that Mauer is ready to hang them up. Doesn't mean it's not something to consider. Honestly, I almost think Joe would be more apt to retire than he would be to sign somewhere else. Moving somewhere else obviously would mean either moving his family or moving away from his family, which I don't think he would want to do.
  7. Like
    bdodge22 reacted to Ted Schwerzler for a blog entry, Will The Real Kyle Gibson Please Stand Up   
    Entering the 2018 Major League Baseball season the Minnesota Twins greatest need is starting pitching. Obviously, that is a similar narrative for many teams across the sport, but there's little denying that things line up for the hometown team to make a big splash in the starting rotation. While Jose Berrios and Ervin Santana are locks among the five this year, Paul Molitor will have to quickly find out what Kyle Gibson he has in 2018.
    The former 1st round (22nd overall) pick by Minnesota in 2009 has been the focus of many stories wondering if it will ever all come together. Making his big league debut at the age of 25 back in 2013, Gibson now embarks on his 6th MLB season, and will be doing so at the age of 30. He's yet to pitch more than 195 innings in a season, and his career 4.70 ERA speaks of mediocrity in the truest sense of the word. A pitch-to-contact type, Gibson's career 6.2 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 doesn't leave much to get hyped about, simply showing a level of predictability.
    Rewind back to mid-2017 however, and Gibson appeared to buck his own narrative. Despite looking like a non-tender candidate for the early part of the year, the former Mizzou Tiger landed a 2018 arbitration deal that will come in somewhere around $5 million. Now the question is, how did he get there and will it continue?
    A year ago, Gibson's first 17 starts for the Twins added up to a 6.29 ERA and a .920 OPS. He was sent down to Triple-A, and was dealt a hard dose of reality. After posting a 5.07 ERA in 2016, the 3.84 ERA from 2015 looked like a distant memory. Then, in a get-right opportunity, Gibson turned things around against the hapless Detroit Tigers on July 22nd. Twirling 7.1 IP of three-run ball, it was the first time since September 13, 2016 that he pitched at least seven innings. From that point on, a period of 12 starts, Gibson owned a 3.57 ERA and allowed opponents to tally just a .699 OPS. The change was drastic, and the sample size was indicative of it being sustainable. Going forward though, can he replicate what drove that success?
    First and foremost, Gibson missed significantly more bats. In his first 17 starts from 2017, Gibson generated strikeouts just 14.1% of the time, while walking 10.4% of batters he faced. Those numbers are a far cry from the 22.1% strikeout rate, and 6.2% walk rate posted in the final 12 times on the mound. By getting more batters out on his own, he also increased his strand rate from 68.1% to 79.2%.
    Virtually all of Gibson's balls put in play remained comparable by the percentages. He didn't have a drastic change in line drive, ground ball, or fly ball rates. He was able to shave just about 5% off of his HR/FB rate however. The dip in balls leaving the park could potentially be attributed to a slight swing (roughly 4%) of outcomes taken away from hard contact, and added to soft contact. What that also suggests however, is that we dive into the repertoire.
    In looking at Gibson's offerings, I think there's a few takeaways to consider. First and foremost, there was a drastic change in regards to how Kyle attacked the strikezone. After predominantly working in the lower half of the zone through his bad stretch, Gibson attacked higher in the zone and on the corners down the stretch. Not being a high velocity pitcher (averaging 92.7 mph on his fastball) forcing the ball up in the zone can help to get it on hitters quicker. Obviously the swing plane changes based upon pitch location, and the added advantage of going up and in suggests Gibson felt more comfortable challenging opposing hitters.
    Secondly, there was one pitch that jumped off the page during his success. After using his slider just 14% of the time through his first 1,495 pitches in 2017, the usage jumped over 20% through his final 1,115 pitches on the season. The numbers didn't equate to the career high 22.1% of sliders he threw a year ago (in fact he was at just 17.8% on the season), but it was clearly an offering he felt comfortable going back to. Notably, the slider also became somewhat of an out pitch. Looking at Gibson's pitch types by count courtesy of Baseball Savant, favorable counts saw a significant amount of the sweeping pitch. Despite being more of an afterthought early in the year, the slider generated 5% swinging strikes in the second half (compared to 3% in the first).
    Finally, the slight changes allowed Gibson to see a difference in the results of batted balls against him. Launch angle for opposing hitters decreased, while barreled balls fell off a cliff. Gibson was generating slightly more weak contact, and the quality of balls being put into the field of play as a whole had sunk. Likely an indicator of the process as a whole, as opposed to any one single scenario, Gibson was seeing a payoff for his new tactics.
    As a whole, it's hard to suggest that 2018 will see a full season of Gibson at his best. While the positive signs were shown down the stretch, none of the changes were revolutionary, and the differences were rather minor in the grand scheme of things. With a new pitching coach in Garvin Alston, maybe Gibson will find even more success with his slider than before. What we don't know, is whether the slight differences translate to sustainability for a 30 year old over the course of 30-plus starts. I do think that there's enough reason to believe Gibson can be more of his 2015 self than he's been each of the past two seasons however, and that would give Minnesota a quality back end option.
    Even before adding another high-level arm into the fold, the Twins will have a stable of options to round out the rotation. With youth as a disadvantage, pitchers like Gibson and Phil Hughes will have to put their best foot forward on a nightly basis to set themselves apart. I'm not going to suggest Gibson will live up to his pre-debut hype, but serviceable seems to be a fair bet in 2018.
    For more from Off The Baggy (and to see the graphical depictions of this article) click here. Follow @tlschwerz
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