Bullpen Questions

With the injury to Joel Zumaya, my projected opening-day roster needs adjustment. At this point, I’m not even going to speculate on who will replace him. I don’t think looking at stats alone will be the best way to discern who will be the set of pitchers that have a good chance of making the roster.

There will be an intriguing list of possibles to follow and once spring games begin, we’ll have an opportunity to see how they actually perform this year. In fact, I almost expect to be impressed with some guys who are not on my list now and that may mean a very different look to the bullpen than I projected earlier.

Some questions I will be looking to have answered in the next few weeks:

  • Will Matt Capps perform well enough to deserve the closer role?
  • Will Glen Perkins look good enough to preserve hope for another excellent year from him?
  • Will Brian Duensing return to being very good out of the bullpen again?
  • Will Terry Doyle pitch well enough to keep on the roster or will he go back to the White Sox? Will it be as a starter, long relief man or middle innings guy if he sticks?
  • Will any of the hard throwers show enough control to earn the right-handed set-up role that was envisioned for Zumaya?
  • Will overall performances be strong enough to fill the bullpen with in-house candidates or will a trade be necessary?

Right now the decision the Twins made to add some ‘B’ games looks like a wise one, as it will help some of the pitchers in camp show more of what they can do by giving them more opportunities to pitch in live action.

The best part is – spring games are soon to begin. It will be fun to watch the progression and see who emerges as the go-to guys in the pen.

Sad Day for Joel Zumaya

My reaction is sadness. I had hopes of a story-book comeback for an exciting player. But my hopes being shattered are not of much significance compared to the pain Joel Zumaya and his family are experiencing today.

There are plenty of stories and tweets with details on the MRI and reactions of Twins and GM Terry Ryan available online, so I won’t go into any of that in this post. My thoughts at this point are with Zumaya.

It is going to be a difficult time for him as he has to deal with decisions about his career and physical health. It’s at times like this that one is reminded of how fleeting a baseball career at the elite level can be. Those of us who watch and enjoy the game without having ever played the game at any significantly competitive level may not have a full realization of the tremendous dedication, hard work and determination it takes to succeed even if born with an athletically gifted body. Zumaya has put in an extraordinary effort to get back on the field and he was excited about that. Now that is over, at least for another year.

I will probably never forget that game against the Twins when Zumaya’s arm popped. I was watching on TV, but it was a sobering moment. Now it appears he will have another very long hill to climb to return, if he even chooses to do that. One can certainly not blame him if he chooses retirement.

Best wishes Joel Zumaya.

Twins Blogosphere Shift

A few days ago the four guys who comprise the TwinsCentric blog on the Star-Tribune site announced they were consolidating their individual blogs into one site at Twins Daily. As a result, I’ve revamped my listing of Twins blogs on the right side of my front page.

In addition to removing the soon to be obsolete sites and adding Twins Daily, I’ve added more of the Twins blogs that I visit regularly. There is now quite a good group of bloggers writing many interesting posts representing a significant variety of perspectives on the Twins.

For the die-hard Twins fan with Internet access, there is plenty to read and ample opportunity to comment.

It is, quite simply, a great time to be a Twins fan.

Spring Training is Here

I suspect almost everyone who follows the Twins closely already knows of these resources, but just for the record here are the links to some live reporting at the Twins spring training complex.

They have been prolific in their tweets this first day of pitchers and catchers working out, including sending several pictures and videos.

It looks like we will have no shortage of coverage this year and that will make it easier for those of us still in the north country to live vicariously through their eyes and ears.

UPDATE (2-20-12): After posting yesterday, I realized that I missed one key media person who is tweeting and posting photos/videos from the Twins’ spring training. John Shipley (@shipleykid) is reporting for the St. Paul Pioneer Press including a blog called Twins Now.

25-Man Roster Projection Update

Judging from the various articles and blog posts in the Twins orbit the last couple of days, this is the time of year to put your guesses on the record. Since I have posted my 25-man roster projections a few times before, this is just the latest update.

As it turns out, there is only one change from the last one I posted at the  end of 2011. The signing of Joel Zumaya makes him a definite roster-spot holder unless he starts the season on the disabled list. I do not have any good information about his physical condition or readiness to compete, so will go on the assumption that he will be ready by opening day.

With that brief lead-in, here is my updated roster:

Everyday lineup:

  • C Joe Mauer
  • 1B Justin Morneau
  • 2B Alexi Casilla
  • SS Jamey Carroll
  • 3B Danny Valencia
  • LF Ben Revere/Trevor Plouffe
  • CF Denard Span
  • RF Josh Willingham
  • DH Ryan Doumit

Bench:

  • C Drew Butera
  • INF Luke Hughes
  • INF Tsuyoshi Nishioka
  • OF Trevor Plouffe/Ben Revere

Pitchers:

  • S Carl Pavano
  • S Scott Baker
  • S Francisco Liriano
  • S Nick Blackburn
  • S Jason Marquis
  • Long Relief Anthony Swarzak
  • Closer Matt Capps
  • LHP Brian Duensing
  • LHP Glen Perkins
  • RHP Joel Zumaya
  • RHP Alex Burnett
  • RHP Terry Doyle

Following Twins Players

Spring training is about to open for the Twins with the pitchers and catchers reporting in just two days. As in the past, we can follow them through the traditional media via stories written by journalists from the major news outlets in the Twin Cities. Some of those writers have expanded their modes of story-telling to include blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

Over the last decade or so independent bloggers have joined the fray. Some are aspiring journalists and others, like me, are just Twins enthusiasts and amateur writers. This group in particular has made the off-season much more interesting by delving into stories and working up detailed statistical analyses. This off-season seems to have gone much faster because of the interesting array of information online.

One relatively new wrinkle for fans to get information about players is from the players themselves directly. Facebook and especially Twitter have made daily lives of players much more accessible. Some players have embraced the medium and others have not yet jumped on board. Some have someone do the posting/tweeting for them but most are handling that chore themselves.

I’ve found following several Twins players on Twitter a window into the personalities, maybe even more than they realize. Especially in the off-season, their tweets are about more than baseball. One gets a glimpse into their interests and sometimes even family life. But judging from their mixing in comments about their workouts, most are serious about getting ready for the coming season.

I’ll have to see how difficult it is to maintain a list, but for now I intend to keep a page current with known Twitter users who are on the Twins’ active major league roster. Here is the first listing.

2012: Year of Recovery?

Twins fans who are optimistic about 2012 may not describe their hopes in quite these terms, but they are believers in recovery, rebounds, redemption and maybe even a few miracles. How so? A close look at the probable roster and regular lineup reveals hopes, if not outright assumptions, that almost every position will feature a player recovering or gaining redemption from a year that all wish could be forgotten.

Judging by the dearth of news from the front office and an unusually quite rumor mill, the 2012 Twins spring roster appears to be set. Just ten days from pitchers and catchers reporting to training camp, there are few signs of any more changes before that date. While I would definitely not rule out any surprise roster moves, it seems safe for now to assume the players currently invited are the ones to consider for the opening day roster.

That being the case, let’s take a look at what will be required for the Twins to compete for a division championship.

Number 1: Pitcher

Starters: Four recovering from injury – Baker, Liriano, Blackburn, Marquis; one hoping to avoid continuing decline – Pavano. Summary: four recoveries and one minor miracle to beat old man time needed. Prognosis: Highly unlikely that all will perform to the top of form. Best bet is Baker.

Relievers: Capps – recovering from injury unreported in 2011, Duensing returning to the bullpen from a tough year in the rotation, Swarzak – hoping to build on a decent year, Perkins – hoping to repeat his best year, Zumaya – recovery from serious injuries, and bunch of others competing for a spot. Summary: two recoveries including one redemption, one rebound, two bright spots, and a slew of hopefuls. Prognosis: Capps will redeem himself and be a solid closer, others will perform better than expected to make the bullpen a surprising strength, Zumaya a long shot but worth the investment.

2. Catcher: Two recovering – Mauer and Doumit; Butera not major league hitter. Summary: two recoveries and one redemption needed. Prognosis: Mauer and Doumit have good years, Butera is eventually replaced by Towles.

3. First Base: Morneau recovering? Summary: Minor miracle needed. Prognosis: Unlikely to return to MVP form. Probably will struggle until finally replaced.

4. Second Base: Casilla recovering. Summary: recovery needed. Prognosis: Likely to be a solid middle infielder all year for the first time.

5. Third Base: Valencia rebound from sophomore jinx/slump. Summary: Rebound/redemption needed. Prognosis: Will become a respectable third baseman with decent offensive output but not middle-of-the-lineup numbers.

6. Shortstop: Carroll hoping for no decline. Summary: Solid performance needed. Prognosis: Will perform adequately giving Nishioka time to develop.

7. Left Field: Revere on the rise? Plouffe finds a home? Summary: decent production, better defense needed. Prognosis: Revere will play well in the field, but will not blossom at the plate. Plouffe will struggle in the field, but will be adequate as a hitter.

8. Center Field: Span recovering. Summary: Recovery needed. Prognosis: Likely to recover and return to good form as center fielder and lead-off hitter.

9. Right Field: Willingham new position. Summary: Needs to be adequate in the field while producing power and run production at the plate. Prognosis: Likely to perform about as expected.

Bench: Nishioka recovering/learning, Hughes recovering from winter season injury. Summary: full recovery and development needed. Prognosis: Nishioka improves both in the field and at the plate, Hughes is adequate as a utility player.

So, the twenty five man roster consists of exactly one player looking to improve upon a best in career year, a couple who are hoping to hold off Father Time and twenty two who the Twins are betting on making comebacks or demonstrating growth/competence of some sort. Under these circumstances it is difficult to see this team as anything more than a long shot for the division championship and might even struggle to stay out of last place.

The real need then is for a major miracle.

Gardenhire Philosophy

On the Twins Caravan yesterday Ron Gardenhire made very clear that he was looking forward to this spring training. He compared it to last year by saying this year everything will be on HIS schedule. Last year he had to follow schedules made up by doctors for Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer. As he said, we all know how that turned out.

In his typically humorous way he said he had been practicing yelling and even has learned how to “yell a little bit in Japanese”! He proclaimed himself ready for spring to begin. Obviously, the manager likes things to be done his way.

Reading between the lines on his comments, it seems to me pretty obvious that Gardenhire is not about to change his philosophy of how to run a ML ball club, in spite of the worst year he ever had as a manager. He is convinced he knows how to prepare a team for the long season ahead and he plans to execute his plan leaving little doubt about who will be in charge this spring. It won’t be the doctors/trainers, the players, or, for that matter, the players’ agents. The latter group may have had too much influence, or at least communication control last year. It also won’t be the General Manager, so if there are any “philosophical differences” between the two, Gardenhire is prepared to put himself on the line.  For the record, I don’t think there is much difference in philosophy of how the manager should operate between Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire. They have known each other for a long time and if there was a significant problem, last fall would have been the time to correct that by moving to the future with a new manager and coaching staff.

We can debate whether or not Gardenhire’s philosophy of management of a team is as good as some other managers, but other than last year, it is fair to say that the Twins preparations for the season and spring regimen have been quite effective for winning division titles.

An important element of his philosophy appears to be having a determined role for each player. He has said he believes players respond better when they know their role and expectations for that role. This is almost certainly the reason he has named a starting pitcher for opening day already and yesterday indicated who he would like to see in his opening day lineup.

Last year he deviated from that approach because he had not seen Tsuyoshi Nishioka play before he arrived at spring training so Gardenhire waited to see how Alexi Casilla and Nishioka worked together and how they looked at shortstop and second base before making a decision on who would start where. As it turned out, that combination never got a chance to gel before Nishioka’s injury. This year, there is no hesitation on Gardenhire’s part. Casilla will be at second base and Jamey Carroll will be at shortstop.

Such an approach makes it easy for bloggers and beat journalists to “predict” who will make the 25-man roster at the beginning of the year and who will be in what roles. That does not mean there is not plenty of room for opinions on the wisdom of those decisions. In fact, I expect there will be continuing vigorous debate in the blogosphere about Casilla and Carroll with many believing Carroll would be better at second base, but barring an injury to Casilla, I don’t expect that to happen by opening day.

Another element of Gardenhire’s philosophy that many in baseball find wise is his belief that bench players need opportunities to stay sharp and regulars need periodic rest to get through the demanding 162-game schedule. Last year was an aberration, but otherwise the Twins have been strong down the stretch and many attribute that to this approach to managing players.

A little more into the speculative realm, I think Gardenhire gives more decision-making responsibility to his coaches, especially pitching coach, Rick Anderson, than most managers do, at least publicly. Glimpses of this philosophy appear every once in a while. For example, recently when talking about Carl Pavano as his opening day starter he said something to the effect that he talked to Anderson and Anderson told him Pavano was the guy. This is  certainly not the only time the manager publicly appeared to defer to his pitching coach. While this may well all be just for public display and something else actually goes on behind the scenes, I have no reason to believe Gardenhire would attempt such an ongoing ruse.

Gardenhire wins much praise on a regular basis for his ability to manage the people. Many players are very positive about working under his leadership, so much so that he has earned the reputation of a “players manager”. Many fans, on the other hand, are quite critical of this element of Gardenhire’s leadership style saying that he needs to be much tougher and take charge, show who is the boss. I happen to believe in this age of players salaries and attitudes, Gardenhire’s approach is much more conducive to a good working environment than what so many fans call leadership.

Over that last several years of following the Twins, I have come to believe he is good with people, but not very good at game management. His in-game decisions are sometimes really suspect at best and it ends up costing the Twins games. Also, when it comes to big games, such as the Yankees or the playoffs, he appears visibly nervous and I suspect that is because he knows he is not good at single-game management. In the playoffs especially, there is no long-term to balance out the errors in critical strategic decisions that sometimes mean the difference between winning and losing a game. With his particular set of skills, Gardenhire would be wise to hire a bench coach who is a master tactician who could be the game manager for him. Unfortunately, I don’t think Scott Ullger is that guy and neither was Steve Liddle.

In spite of my misgivings, I expect Gardenhire and his philosophy to be around for a long time. The Twins’ ownership and management are not only satisfied with him in the dugout, they act as if they believe he embodies the Twins’ philosophy. About the only way he would be gone is if the Twins lose another 99 or 100 games in 2012 leaving ownership and top management no real option but to sacrifice the manager and coaches to appease what will almost certainly be hostile fans.

I’d be very surprised if 2012 is the disaster that last year was, but it will take some minor miracles to go from last to first in the division. More about that in a future post.

Twins Caravan in Mason City

This morning the Twins Caravan came to Mason City, Iowa and I found my way there to see Ron Gardenhire, Kent Hrbek and new play-by-play broadcaster, Corey Provus.

There was a decent crowd for a Monday morning even including five school-age boys who I’m guessing are members of the host’s Little League team. By the way, you can’t miss who the host was for this event by the banner in the background of the photo.

This was my first time attending one of these events so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but it probably was about the same as any Twins Caravan they have done this winter throughout Twins Territory.

Each guy made some brief opening comments and then Provus acted as MC and took questions from the audience.

During the course of the morning, Gardenhire said he was on his way to spring training. He and his wife are driving to visit family in Kansas and Oklahoma before heading to Florida.

Provus said a little about how he likes to approach broadcasting a game and after some prompting made a couple of demonstration calls for the crowd including a simulated walk-off home run for Joe Mauer. He also mentioned that a new feature was being added to the Twins radio broadcasts this year – this day in baseball history. They will pick various events from the past, both Twins and MLB history, to weave in as stories during each broadcast.

Probably the most interesting bit of news was Gardenhire’s answer to the final question of the morning that came from one of the Little Leaguer’s. The question was “Have you decided on the starting lineup for opening day yet or is every position pretty much up for grabs?” I thought it was a great question and was quite surprised that he answered so directly. Here is his opening day lineup (confirmed by Corey Provus’ Tweet today).

  1. Denard Span, CF
  2. Jamey Carroll, SS
  3. Joe Mauer, C
  4. Justin Morneau, 1B
  5. Josh Willingham, RF
  6. Ryan Doumit, DH
  7. Danny Valencia, 3B
  8. Alexi Casilla, 2B
  9. Ben Revere, LF

Can’t say there are any surprises in that lineup, but it was interesting that Gardenhire would volunteer that info even before spring training begins. However, he had earlier announced that Carl Pavano is the opening day pitcher so he may be more interested in having the players know exactly what to expect than holding any in suspense. Of course, the health of the players coming back from serious setbacks last year is still the determining factor.

Overall, it was a nice event. After getting a chance to see him in person, I’m looking forward to hearing Corey Provus call the games this year.

Update: I see the Star-Tribune has picked up on the Provus tweet and has a brief story on the starting lineup.

Soon Time for Baseball

Not much deep commentary from here today. By posting this I just want to demonstrate that not everything today is about the Super Bowl. Some of us may enjoy the big game today as a place-holder for baseball while eagerly awaiting our favorite sport’s fresh start soon upon us.

Two weeks from today the Twins begin spring training in earnest. The pitchers and catchers will have reported the day before and real workouts will begin. Baseball will soon arrive.

Signs of spring?

  • The Twins announce 25 spring games will be broadcast on radio
  • Cory Provus, new Twins play-by-play guy, taking to Twitter
  • LEN III Tweets his annual Ft. Myers restaurant review is coming in the STrib in a couple of weeks
  • Ample Twins bloggers regularly pining for baseball to begin.