Sunday, January 04, 2009

Odds. Ends. (01.05.08)

  • Traveshamockery or not?  The Indians' acquisition of Mark DeRosa was met with quasi-outrage by La Velle when he first reported on his blog.  Admittedly, I too was keen on DeRosa for several reasons.  For starters, in comparison to Adrian Beltre's $12 million, DeRosa was due only $5.5 million in 2009, a reasonable addition to the Twins' payroll.  Secondly, he had repeat back-to-back seasons in which his on-base percentage was above .370 along with a walk rate that increased from 7.8% to 10.4% to 12.0% over the past three years indicating that he is showing a mature plate approach in his early 30s.  Furthermore, he appears to be an intelligent baserunner.  In 2008, he swiped six bases and did not get caught once.  Finally, he has peppered the field with line drives - hitting 22% of batted balls in this manner since 2006 - an indication that his rather high .325 BABIP is not a fluke.  Though you might be able to dismiss his home run potential as being in the 10-15 range in 2009, you cannot overlook the fact that between his patience and method he would not have improved the Twins ballclub. 
  • That Said...It is easy to say in retrospect the Twins should have scrounged up three borderline prospects to equal Cleveland's offer.  As La Velle outlined, the three prospects the Indians turned over were hardly bluechippers.  If DeRosa turns in a season that declines even slightly, he will be a likely candidate for a Type A or Type B free agent, netting Cleveland at least one draft pick to replenish the trio lost.  However, negotiations with one organization might not reflect ones with another.  For example, during the winter meetings the reports were that the Cubs wanted Jason Kubel in return.  It could be quite possible that the Cubs viewed this as equal value while the Twins scoffed at the idea.  A few weeks later, Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rogers wrote that the Cubs might be interested in moving DeRosa if "they got a package of solid prospects, like outfielder Ben Revere and pitchers Jose Mijares, Jeff Manship and Andy Swarzak (sic)."  The Twins consider Mijares a potential suitor for the bullpen in the immediate future and Swarzak might also be a contributor as the season progresses.  Though I might consider Manship a viable trading chip, the other three should be used only on an acquisition of a player that would remain with the Twins for more than one season.  To dispell the organization's passive tendencies this offseason, GM Bill Smith told the PiPress's Charley Walters "We're trying; we're working hard at it, but a lot of deals that people have asked for, if we made them, people would really be mad at us. We've explored a lot; we've got a lot of people working on evaluations. But we haven't found a deal that makes us better without giving up our future, and we're not going to do that."
  • Last word on DeRosa...I've seen on numerous message boards that DeRosa would have fit nicely in the number two spot -- and if I were a lineup consultant that is the recommendation I would have made too.  Putting a player that has the ability to produce a .370 on-base percentage is statistically sound -- which would get two players on base in front of Mauer and Morneau -- however, Ron Gardenhire seems to be of the mind that believes bat control and the ability to advance runners through sacrificing are the key attributes of a number two hitter.  Had DeRosa been at his disposal, I would be inclined to think he would have batted him sixth, seventh or eighth, similar to where he batted with the Cubs in 2008.  As I mentioned previously, the Harris-Buscher platoon hit .294/.346/.436 (.782 OPS) after June 14th when they became the regular third base tandum.  So even though DeRosa was not acquired, I believe the upgrade would have been marginal at best over the pair. 
  • Knucking Things Up. When the Twins resigned R.A. Dickey for the second time in as many offseasons, it became clear that the organization was determined to follow through on allocating a knuckleball pitcher to throw in the climate-controlled Metrodome.  This to me, is fascinating for because this is a fairly progressive strategy for the Twins organization.  Of course, the knuckleball is far from a new idea -- as it was in vogue since the early 1900s -- sabermetrician and former Ranger employee, Craig R. Wright, who porposed the implementation of a knuckleball program in the 1980s.  His suggest never caught on at the time as most of baseball at the time saw the knuckleball not so much like the Metrodome's climate, but unpredictable and fell out of fashion in the developmental ranks.  Remember Bob Uecker's tip for catching them?  "You wait until it stops rolling and pick it up," quipped the former catcher and current Brewers radio announcer.  In 1989 Wright and former pitching coach Tom House co-authored "The Diamond Appraised" in efforts to provide both slants on highly debated topics and issues.  In one chapter, titled "The Knuckleball: Baseball's Most Underrated Pitch", Wright outlined a historical perspective of the pitch and why it fell to the wayside -- mostly out lack of young pitchers developing the pitch -- and it died out.  “Catchers hate it,” Jim Bouton, the author of “Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues,” said to the New Yorker. “Nobody likes to warm up with you. Coaches don’t respect it. You can pitch seven good innings with a knuckleball, and as soon as you walk a guy they go, ‘See, there’s that damn knuckleball.’”  Wright's chapter set to work dispelling the myth that the knuckleball is inherently wild.  He cited the walk rate of a dozen knuckleballers, like Wilbur Wood, Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro and showed their walk rates were at or below league average at the time.  Wright concluded this by saying more organizations should take the opportunity to teach a pitch at a lower-level in the farm system. He suggested that five or six borderline prospects be identified to be candidates to convert to a knuckleball.  This is oddly close to what Ron Gardenhire has proposed -- maybe I've underestimated his thinking (or at least reading habits).  Now professional baseball has Tim Wakefield, Charlie Zink, Charlie Haeger (who Mankato Free Press's Ed Thoma thinks is worth a big league shot), Dickey and Lance Niekro, the former Giants first base prospect who is working his way up in the Braves organization using the flutterball.
  • Turning Japanese.  The Toyko Times is reporting that there are three teams remaining in the bidding for former Dragons pitcher Kenshin Kawakami: the Orioles, Cardinals and the Twins.  Several different sources suggest that Kawakami is comparable to current Dodger Hiroki Kuroda, who finished his first year state side with a 9-10 record with a 3.73 ERA and 116-to-42 K-to-BB in 183 innings of work.  Back East, the Daily Yomuri Online took a look at the duo's Japan League career.  The author cited that Kawakami pitched in an extremely pitcher-friendly ballpark with a high scoring offense and a very solid bullpen.  Kuroda, on the other hand, played in the homer friendly Hiroshima Citizens Stadium with a poor defense.  When Kuroda reached the Majors, he was placed in the pitching-friendly Dodger Stadium where he thrived, going 6-2 with a 3.68 ERA. 
  • Honest Work.  The New York Times had a refreshing story on the Arizona Diamondbacks' prospect, Clay Zavada, from Streator, Illinois.  The tale of Zavada is one of many of typical minor leaguer signed in the late rounds (Zavada was drafted in the 30th and received a bonus of $1,000) and have make little during the season (Zavada makes roughly $280 a week in the Midwest League).  “Not all of these guys are getting million-dollar bonuses,” said A. J. Hinch, the director of player development for the Diamondbacks. “I don’t know that everybody is quite aware of what these guys go through in order to give themselves a chance to make it.”