Sunday, March 13, 2011

OtB Twins Notes

With the numbers-trimming in camp on the horizon, Joe Christensen reports that top prospect Kyle Gibson will not be joining the team in Minnesota at the on-set of the season.
This move isn’t a surprise as the front office likely wants to keep their best pitching prospect from running headlong into arbitration too quickly as well as getting some additional seasoning at the AAA level. As I wrote about last month, Gibson’s got some outstanding stuff - not necessarily blow-you-away type stuff, but good enough to project to be successful in the near future by keeping the ball on the turf. Likewise, the team’s coaching staff shares that sentiment and his arrival at the big club is likely imminent as manager Ron Gardenhire said that[Gibson’s] got tickets in hand. One of them, I'm sure, will head to Minnesota at some point.” Again, it’s the matter of the front office agreeing with the field management in initiating his arbitration clock but it is not unreasonable to think Gibson’s time is quickly approaching.
In a radio interview with 1500ESPN’s Jim Souhan and Tom Pelissaro, Twins assistant GM Rob Antony told the pair that Neshek’s arm strength is improving but not quite back to his pre-surgery form.
At Tuesday’s game, Neshek weathered a tumultuous inning – giving up a bombastic drive into the palms off of the bat of Lyle Overbay and was rescued from another extra base hit by the outstanding range of Ben Revere who laid out on the warning track for the catch – and has managed to put up respectable numbers overall this spring. Of course the issue isn’t what his results have been in a handful of spring training innings but rather the process in which he has achieved them.

Earlier in the week, the radar at Hammond Stadium saw his fastball reaching just 84 at his speediest but sitting closer in the 82 range. All those outs that were recorded on Tuesday would fall under the category of “loud outs”. But now Neshek may have turned a corner. By Antony’s testament, Neshek’s subsequent outing saw him with a velocity that was northwards of his previous outing, “hitting 88, 89” and his slider had “good depth”. The caveat is that Antony did not have a radar gun on him in his most recent inning but felt that he had the best movement of his stuff so far this spring.

If Neshek can return to his pre-Tommy John performance, this would give the bullpen a significant boast and be able to provide Gardenhire with a good option against right-handed hitters that has been lost with the departure of Matt Guerrier (.205 average vs RHB in ’10) and Jesse Crain (.224 average vs RHB in ’10). Dating back to 2006, Neshek has held same-sided opponents to a .172 average with an impressive 11.74 strikeouts per nine innings. A little resurrection in that area would help stretch out the bullpen.  
La Velle Neal shares some notes regarding two of the Twins more intriguing starting pitching prospects not named Kyle Gibson: David Bromberg and Deolis Guerra.
Having spent last Monday and Tuesday in camp, I caught both Bromberg and Guerra’s outings on the backfield of the complex on Tuesday against the Pirates. Positioning myself behind home plate along with the scouts, I monitored their bank of radar guns that were constantly directed at the playing field. In general, Bromberg did not appear crisp – at least in respect to the vaunted command that he is celebrated for. While he mixed in three pitches of various speeds (a fastball that was hitting 88-89 regularly, a change that was coming in at 84 and a slow curve coming in around 74), he was a bit on the erratic side and missing his spots. To his credit, the large-bodied right-hander missed his spots too far inside and outside, avoiding missing out over the plate and getting punished.  From the perspective from behind the plate, you can see that Bromberg hides the ball well (especially from right-handed hitters) and that once he regains his midseason form, he should be able to build on his success at the higher levels.

Guerra, on the other hand, is a bigger mystery. Similarly statured to Bromberg, once rumored to have a mid-90s fastball, Guerra did not demonstrate anything that resembled that kind of heat on Tuesday. In the inning I witnessed, the radar guns said his fastball sat at the same level as Bromberg. While I was not privy to the heavily lauded 12-to-6 curveball, he did show a decent changeup and because of his long arms and legs, Guerra’s motion adds to the deception. However, the issue that I noted was that with both his fastball and change was that he seemed to have trouble throwing it consistently. Judging from his stature, you get mesmerized in what results he could be producing though because he seems to struggle with consistency in his control of all his pitches, unlike Bromberg this has not yet translated into a track record of success.
Randball’s Michael Rand wonders why Brian Duensing is so often overlooked.
Fair question.

Now with eight innings and a 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walks ratio under his belt this spring, it’s hard to present a discouraging word about Duensing’s inclusion into the rotation. The statistical community certainly can point to some numbers (such as left-on-base rate, strikeout rate and FIP) and say he’s performing over his head while the scouting-based contingency can simply rebuttal with Duensing’s continued success as a pitcher.
Given some of his tendency I outlined a week ago, I now firmly believe the truth lies somewhere in-between the two camps. He’s scheduled to experience some regression however he attacks the strike zone, hits his spots and mixes in three solid offerings to buoy himself as a starter.
What stats-oriented analysts (me included) have trouble grasping is that a small percentage of contact pitchers who do not possess the sexy strikeout rates or gaudy groundball numbers that do experience sustained success to some degree actually  exist. They are hard to identify as they are a rare breed but the Mark Buerhle’s of the world come from somewhere. Their spot-hitting and pitch selection do not show up within the’s warehouse of stats and yet given the right circumstances (i.e. defense, wide berth of a stadium, a potent offense) these types of pitchers can post season after season of below forecasted ERAs and higher than expected wins totals.
So even though Duensing’s statistical indicators makes some question his future potential, he has earned the right to demonstrate whether or not he might be the future Mark Buerhle. If it turns out he does regress, he’s always welcomed back into the bullpen.  

David Pinto at uses his Lineup Analyzer to predict the offense for the 2011 Twins.
Pinto’s “best lineup” scenario has the Twins scoring an average of 5.32 runs per game – an improvement over MLB’s sixth highest last year. Of course, this scenario assumes that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will be hitting higher in the order given their impressive on-base percentages. Although both have been moved up in the order in the past, Ron Gardenhire is much more inclined to slotting either Tsuyoshi Nishioka (his stated preference to start the season) or Alexi Casilla in the number two spot. The more likely lineup will churn out an estimated 5.21 runs per game – an improvement nonetheless.