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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Trade Deadline Notes

Deadline Day is finally here for MLB teams, as all non-waiver trades must be made by 3 PM Central today.  The Twins are terrible again this year (breaking news) and should be sellers, although their actions have been more of the stand-pat variety, although there has been a lot of interesting Twins news already today.  First off, the Twins shipped Outfielder Sam Fuld back to Oakland in exchange for Starting Pitcher Tommy Milone.  They also called up First Base prospect and recent Futures Game participant Kennys Vargas from AA New Britain to the majors.  Finally, it has been rumored today that the Twins are trying to work out a contract extension with Kurt Suzuki.

 

The Twins claimed Sam Fuld off waivers from Oakland back in April, and he’s played nearly every day (and pretty well to boot) in CF or LF.  Fuld has played surprisingly well in 60 games this season (53 with the Twins), putting up a triple slash of .263/.356/.366 while accumulating 2.3 WAR, which is third on the Twins behind Phil Hughes and Brian Dozier.  That being said, he’s on the wrong side of 30 and has been a journeyman backup outfielder for most of his career, so it’s incredibly likely that his great numbers are the result of random distribution of outcomes rather than it having any other explanation.  Other teams know that, so a huge return for Fuld wasn’t to be expected.  In Oakland, I imagine he profiles as a 4th outfielder, defensive replacement type on the World Series contender.

 

Coming to Minnesota in exchange for Fuld is right-handed starter Tommy Milone.  At first glance, Milone seems like your typical Twins get, as he doesn’t throw very hard (fastball average this season is only 86.5), and doesn’t strike anyone out at a level higher than league average (5.7 K/9  this year, 6.51 K/9 career). However, Milone is a fly ball pitcher, and has thrived in his career at the Oakland McAfee O.co Alameda County Flint Michigan Megabowl Coliseum, which is decidedly a pitcher’s paradise, as he’s posted a career fly ball rate of around 41%.  Also, it should be mentioned that Milone is just 27 years old, posted 2.8 fWAR 2 years ago in Oakland, and isn’t a free agent until after the 2017 season.  That kind of batted ball profile on a pitcher could work in another (albeit milder) pitchers’ paradise in Target Field, and coupling that with 3 years of a fairly cheap and possibly serviceable mid-rotation arm at the low price of Sam Fuld who is a 4th outfielder who they got for nothing 3 months ago seems like a wonderful move by the Twins and Terry Ryan.

 

It was also announced that bopping 23-year-old first baseman Kennys Vargas has been called up the big leagues.  I’m excited to see him play because he has true light tower power and has had success at every level of the minors so far, albeit not necessarily at an advanced pace.  Because he is friends with David Ortiz and bears a resemblance to the should-be future Hall of Famer, people love to make that comparison in regards to Vargas.  It should be noted that as a 23-year-old, Vargas is sporting an .832 OPS at AA and hasn’t yet played at a level higher than that.  When Big Papi was 22 (read: younger than Vargas is today), he posted a 111 OPS+ (that year equated to .817 OPS) in the majors, while blasting 9 home runs in about a half season’s worth of work.  That’s not to say Vargas is going to bust, but people thinking the next David Ortiz is being called up should cool their jets a bit.  He could become a useful DH-type in the future for the Twins, but expectations should be tempered as he has never appeared on a top 100 prospects list and has always been considered a project.

 

It was also rumored today that the Twins are interested in extending first-time All Star Kurt Suzuki after his success this year in Minnesota.  A Suzuki extension if kept at a reasonable price and length could be an ok move for the Twins, but if it gets to be much more than one year with a club option for a second year for $10-12 million, it gets dicey.  Suzuki has had a career year this year, and there are signs that a changed approach and renewed health may have some causation effect on his season thus far.  He’s walked exactly as many times as he struck out so far this season (that’s good), and after spending a few years as a part time player, it could be posited that he’s refreshed and healthy enough to catch every day while producing at the plate.  However, there is a whole career’s worth of data that says he won’t keep this up, and it doesn’t seem like good business to buy low, and then double down on a surprisingly successful free agent signing, especially when the alternative is to sell Suzuki as his value is highest and get prospects into an organization that has a stacked farm system but won’t compete for at least another season.  The risk of him turning back into a pumpkin in my mind is far greater than the risk of cashing in on him at his current value and regretting it.  I hope he’s in another uniform at the end of the day, but I won’t hold my breath.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Twins Stathead Application

Fangraphs.com is a stats and analytics heavy baseball website that can be found on the internet (aka the world wide web) and doubles as one of my favorite ways to procrastinate while I should be studying.  For nerds like me, it’s one of the meccas of baseball knowledge and advanced thinking about the sport.  It attracts an audience of really intellectual baseball fans and high-level thinkers (myself not included), and every so often, MLB teams post job openings when they’re looking for a nerd with a calculator who never played the game.  In the latest posting, my favorite ballclub is looking for a new stathead to crunch some numbers, and since I took a couple of stats classes and like baseball, I am a wonderful candidate.  I sent in my resume, cover letter, and application (fingers crossed), and even dropped Dave St. Pete’s name (my cousins used to babysit his kids so this whole thing is just a big formality), but just in case they go in another direction, I’m just going to make this available so the other 29 teams don’t miss out.
JOB FUNCTION:  As a member of the front office, collaborate with the Baseball Operations staff to develop, deliver, and maintain data driven solutions for analytics and architecture of player information and evaluation systems. This position requires strong statistical, software development, and database management skills.
Strong statistical background—I used to be an Actuarial Science major but switched out because it’s too hard and I’m not smart enough because I was bored and don’t test well.  I got a C+ in a class taught by a prof with a thick Russian accent, so I’m more than qualified.  CHECK
REPORTS TO:  VP, Technology & Manager of Major League Administration & Baseball Research
Last time I checked, this isn’t Bill Smith, so I’m still interested.  Just wondering, will I be making more or less money than Billy upon hire?  That’s kind of a sticking  point since I never traded Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps, just saying.
ESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS:
Work with Baseball Operations, Scouting, and Minor League staff to maintain and expand upon the existing player information and evaluation systems.
I can get a subscription to Baseball Prospectus when my first paycheck clears and I listen to podcasts all the time.  Plus I’ll be at the Futures Game on Sunday, and would be willing to scout those guys and see which of them would best fit The Twins Way.
Use an iterative software development approach for quick roll-outs combined with incremental improvement process to existing systems and environments.
Quick roll outs?  I been rolling out quick since Luda dropped Roll Out back in my elementary school days.

Review existing data structure and define any necessary changes or additions to that architecture to produce efficient and intuitive data structures.
I imagine this involves proofreading a Microsoft Word doc, maybe an Excel spreadsheet or two at worst.  Nick Punto hit second most of his career with the Twins, there honestly can’t be a ton of analytics going on.
Integrate multimedia and data from outside providers into data architecture and player information system.
I can help Gardy bookmark baseball-reference.com onto his Internet Explorer homepage, check.
Design and develop procedures to calculate advanced player statistics and manage player evaluations, rankings, and other information into an integrated system.
Advanced player statistics?  You mean like Moneyball, right?
Continually work with Baseball Operations staff to identify features and areas of improvement within the player information system to facilitate a user-friendly research tool.
Facilitate a user-friendly research tool?  Sure, I’ll help get Gardy acquainted with the computer, I’m more than qualified after teaching my mom how to use her iPhone.
Create standardized reports through the use of graphs, charts, text, etc. to be consumed by Baseball Operations staff.
That’s something I can do.  I used to be really good at art in elementary school, with my work being featured in the Minnesota Timberwolves Game Day Program, so drawing a few graphs and pie charts should be no sweat.
Perform advanced statistical analysis on large sets of baseball data to help in the decision making process of the Baseball Operations Department.
I took STAT 333 last fall and got a C+.  I could do most of the homework myself (Remember, not a good test-taker), but got help sometimes.  I think I still have those other kids’ numbers, so if I run into any problems I’ll shoot them a text.
Assist Manager of Major League Administration & Baseball Research in identifying technologies and data sources that offer value to the Baseball Operations department.
I will point him in the direction of literally anything Tom Tango has ever written.
Communicate results to appropriate staff members through presentations, written reports, and tools.
Wrote a research paper on cybermetrics in my senior English class in high school and got an A-, so written reports I can do.
Be a liaison between the Minnesota Twins Baseball Operations Department and the Office of the Commissioner and MLBAM in regards to baseball-related technologies.
Cool, liason to Bud Selig means I’ll get to travel because we all know he doesn’t email.
TECHNICAL QUALIFICATIONS:
  • 4 Year Bachelor’s degree in Technology.
That’s a funny way to spell “Economics.”  We’ll make it work.
  • 2+ years of hands-on development experience with .NET Framework, C#, ASP.net MVC, XML, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, AJAX, Entity Framework, Web API, and the MVVM design pattern.
We’ve made it this far and this is our first hang up.  I’m doing pretty good.
  • Experience with basic front-end user experience design.
…..
  • Proficient with Microsoft SQL Database management and schema design.

  • Experience with developing solutions that consider massive quantities of data.
…….
  • Proficient with Visual Studio.
Define proficient
  • Working knowledge of Microsoft IIS.
Working knowledge is kind of a loose term if you ask me.
Ok, so I kind of just blew the save (baseball term).
REQUIREMENTS:
  • Experience with Sabermetric player evaluation techniques and concepts.
I’ve been reading Fangraphs for years, so experience I got.
  • Experience with Pitch f/x, play-by-play, and/or TrackMan data sets.
Pitch f/x is really super cool and I usually read when Jeff Sullivan writes about it, so if this is an interview I would say that yes I am experienced.
  • Ability to communicate effectively with all aspects of Baseball Operations, Scouting, and Player Development staff, and understand their job functions and subsequent software needs.
I am a wonderful, prodigious communicator, and I have expressed that on every resume and application I have ever filled out and turned in.
  • Ability to lift and transport items up to 55 lbs.
That’s kind of a loaded question, but yes, I’m interning this summer and have no problem swallowing my pride, rolling up my sleeves, and finally cleaning out Bill Smith’s office for you on a day where I have some downtime.
  • Must be able to sit for extended periods of time.
Check.  Big time check.
  • Ability to relocate to the Twins Cities area.
I will do that as long as the Twins let me have time off to drive back to Hibbing to play for the Miners every summer weekend and a few days a week.  Nothing we can’t work around.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Nolasco and Injury Culture

Mike Berardino, Pioneer Press—SEATTLE – Eighteen starts into his Twins career, veteran right-hander Ricky Nolasco finally admitted he has been struggling with some level of soreness in his throwing elbow since spring training.
Nolasco, signed to a four-year, $49 million free-agent deal during the offseason, left the team on Monday and flew back to the Twin Cities. The Twins’ Opening Day starter was due to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Tuesday, when he will be examined by Twins medical director Dr. John Steubs.
According to Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony, Nolasco had not sought treatment from the club’s training staff all year. Nolasco mentioned the elbow issue during a Monday meeting with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson.
“After some coaxing he finally admitted he’s been struggling since spring training with a bit of a sore elbow,” Antony said. “He said he can’t get loose more than anything. Said it gets tight. Some days it’s better than others. (Sunday) he had a real difficult time getting loose, so we called it a day after two innings.”
Nolasco, 31, was pulled after two innings and 42 pitches on Sunday after giving up six earned runs to the New York Yankees. That start pushed Nolasco’s earned run average to a career-worst 5.90.
Just six of his 18 starts have been quality starts: six or more innings with a maximum of three earned runs.
Over his past 11 starts he has posted a 10.64 ERA in the first inning. He held opponents scoreless in the first inning over his first seven starts.

After signing the richest free agent contract in franchise history, it’s no secret that Ricky Nolasco has been absolutely awful and thus far a huge disappointment.  His 5.90 ERA is more than 1.5 runs higher than his career mark entering 2014.  He is striking out fewer batters, walking more, and giving up more home runs than his track record would suggest that he should.  He’s leading the league in hits allowed.  It’s no question his deal has been one of the biggest disappointments from free agency this past winter.  After seeing these facts or simply watching him pitch a few times, it’s evident he’s not the same guy he’s been for the majority of his solid big league career.  No one should be overly surprised that he’s been pitching hurt. 

Ok, so he’s hurt, and that sucks, but at least there’s an explanation to why he’s been so underwhelming.  Seems like a pretty straightforward story, right?  That’s where this starts to get interesting.  Pioneer Press Twins Beat guy Mike Berardino, who wrote the piece above in italics and who does great work covering the Twins night in night out, tweeted this out not long after his story was posted:

@MikeBerardino: I asked Gardy if he wants his pitchers to tell him when they're sore. He suggested he did not want to know until it rose to a certain level.

I like to picture Gardy volunteering this small look into his philosophy in the clubhouse, in between giving Eddie Escobar a quick instructional on the art of the sacrifice bunt and watching an episode of M*A*S*H on his tube RCA TV that Tom Kelly bought new in 1986.  Try harder to sound like the game has passed you by Gardy, you can’t.  I mean, he sounds to me like someone’s dad talking Twins at a bar.  Mauer’s soft, Nolasco’s soft.  They’re all soft these days!  Unless you’re really hurt, you go out there when you see your name on that galdang lineup card!  Every time.  Period.  Gotta try to go the distance and get the win!  Bartender, gimme another Busch Light!  Seriously, this kind of tough guy, sack up, you’re not injured you’re hurt BS is so outdated in today’s game.  What exactly is that “certain level” Gardy?  Because it’s evident to me that Nolasco reached that certain arbitrary level of injured a while ago.

If this is the kind of mindset that Gardy wants his players to have, a 1980s bite-the-bullet, grit it out approach, then he is no longer a viable option.  Berardino’s article says word-for-word that only after some coaxing could the Twins Brass get Nolasco to admit that his arm has been tight since Spring Training and that he hasn’t been right all year.  I’m not in the Twins Clubhouse on a daily basis (shocker, I know).  In fact, I have never set foot in the Twins clubhouse, so I don’t feel comfortable making these broad generalizations about a company that I have no internal knowledge whatsoever, but it certainly screams culture problem to me.  Why else would Nolasco, a very good and most durable pitcher whom the Twins have a lot invested in, be compelled to hide injury and pitch ineffectively for months on end rather than feel comfortable admitting that he isn’t right and needs some time before he’ll be able to get out on the mound and pitch to his talent level and perform up to the expectations of his contract?

There is no point to playing injured or feeling like you should have to hide an injury.  I realize that it’s a long season (cc MightyFlynn) and no one is 100% as the season wears on, but there is a difference between sore/hurt and injured.  And as it stands, Ricky Nolasco at whatever x% he was pitching at isn’t a very good pitcher.  Had he felt comfortable going to Gardy and saying, “hey, I’m not right, I need some time, put me on the DL,” the Twins could have easily gone to the minor leagues and gotten someone who could have helped the team more than an injured Nolasco has for the past couple of months.  Trevor May or Alex Meyer potentially could have come up and helped the club.  I have no knowledge of the internal workings of any other clubs either (again, shocker), but I imagine smart teams do their best to make sure their players feel more than comfortable disclosing injuries and getting treatment.


Instead of the approach, the Twins Twins’d and Nolasco toughed it out for a handful of starts, being ineffective and possibly further injuring himself and hurting the club’s investment in him.  I do realized this is a culture problem with layers upon layers upon layers.  I ripped up my shoulder in high school and didn’t tell a soul until months after it happened, afraid of what answer I would get.  Who knows if I hurt it worse by continuing to play baseball while eating Advil like they were Skittles.  No one wants to admit they’re hurt or to miss any time.  It’s incredibly frustrating.  So I get that this is not all the Twins’ fault.  Nolasco has probably been conditioned to go out there every 5th day, no matter how he feels, for upwards of a couple decades.  That being said, I’ve become less and less enamored over the past few years with how the Twins do business.  When something like this happens I feel justified in thinking that the Twins brass is filled with people who are simply incompetent boobs.  I hope I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m not. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thomas Vanek at a discount price


Yesterday we were greeted with the news that former Gopher great and current NHL sniper Thomas Vanek left upwards of 30 million dollars (!!!!) to sign a 3 year deal with the Wild.  This is a move most people will say they saw coming down the pipeline years in advance, but I never once thought it was a foregone conclusion, especially with the Wild's reluctance to go super long term with free agents this time around.  It is exciting because it's a move people have anticipated since the day he left the U for Buffalo, and rumors and excitement for #26 have only booned with the arrival of ex-teammate and good friend Jason Pominville from Buffalo a year and a half ago.

 

On ice, it’s pretty much a consensus that this is a good move due to the fact that Vanek agreed to take less money and less years, giving the Wild the flexibility to sign some of their younger guys like Haula, Granlund, and company later on, while at the same time giving the offensively challenged team some much needed fire power.  It also leaves the Wild free of any obligation during Vanek’s exit from his prime in 3 years, which is huge considering they are still on the hook for 11 more years of Suter and Parise each, and who knows what kind of players they will be 7-8 years from now.  That’s about as in depth as I feel comfortable going since I’m not by any means a hockey X’s and O’s mind, but it sure seems to me that this move will help the wet blanket that has for many years been the offense.  I’m super excited about it because he was my first favorite player at the U, and the first Gopher that I really made a point to follow regularly once he went on to the NHL.  Now I actually get to watch him night in, night out again for the first time since I was like 12.  I can’t wait.

 

Another reason this is huge is on a much more macro level of Minnesota sports.  Finally it feels like the Wild are becoming a free agent destination.  I know there are obvious connections to the state for Vanek, but there were 30 million extra reasons to go elsewhere that he left on the table.  It feels like the Wild brass’ plan is coming to fruition right before our eyes, as they are getting really good at supplementing their homegrown young core with key free agents and trades.  Honestly the Twins should take notes. 

 

Having these big name guys come here, just to be here and try to win together is a great feeling as a fan, and one that none of us have ever really had before.  I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again today, it feels like we are kind of the Heat of hockey now.  Obviously it is a lot tougher to get to the Stanley Cup Final out of our conference than it is for Miami to make it to the NBA Final out of the hapless East, but it feels like the Wild are building a winning culture here around Suter, Parise, and the kids, and other players are taking notice.  I’ve said it a dozen times by now I bet, but he left 30 million dollars on the table.  To come here.  That’s something that players do when they are ring chasing—when they want to go to Chicago, Detroit (in the past), Pittsburgh, etc.  Not to come to the Wild.  I know they won’t play a meaningful period for another 3+ months, but it already seems like a big win.
 
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