Month: October 2017

Free Agent Possibilities – Starting Pitching Help for the Minnesota Twins

The best starting pitching in baseball in the regular season belonged to, in order; Dodgers, Indians, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Yankees, Astros, Cubs, Red Sox. While ERA might be a limited statistic, that’s a telling trend. In 2017 the Twins were 19th on this list, starters combining for a 4.73 ERA, (as opposed to dead last in 2016 at 5.39). They were only 26th in strikeouts in 2017 (as opposed to dead last in 2016). Most of the improvement in their pitching was due to soon to be Gold Glove center fielder Byron Buxton. Consider this, the median MLB team (in this case, the Mariners) scored 4.63 runs per game in 2017. Buxton had an Rtot of 32 (a stat which combines a variety of statistics to form an overall defensive contribution above or below average). In 2017 Buxton was so good in CF, he negated an average MLB team’s offense over a 7 game stretch, that’s absolutely bananas. The story here ultimately is that aside from Jose Berrios and Ervin Santana, the Twins starting rotation is both uncertain, and decidedly average.

The Twins have a stable of in-house candidates looking to fill out the back end of their rotation. Kyle Gibson seems to be a lock, after ‘turning a corner’ down the stretch (I’m too jaded to be convinced of this). Adalberto Mejia has shown flashes of potential despite being about as efficient as Gabriel Moya’s mechanics. Trevor May is working his way back from surgery, Stephen Gonsalves and Francisco Romero offer intriguing rotation options although both should start the season at AAA Rochester. If I’m in the front office, I don’t want to rely on someone with limited experience stepping up or a AAA guy being ready close to the beginning of the season (remember Berrios’ 2016 debut?). Assuming the Twins choose to pursue a starter in free agency and not through the trade market, here are some options they might consider.

Andrew Cashner

Cashner had an Ervin Santana-like year in 2017, in that, his peripherals did not match his overall performance. As a result, he is likely to get a solid contract this off-season. Signed to a 1 year, $10 million deal with the Rangers, he posted a 3.40 ERA (compared to 5.30 xFIP, which resulted from him cutting his HR/FB% almost in half from 2016, an unlikely feat in Arlington. Cashner put up a poor K/9 (4.64), is injury prone (has surpassed 180 IP just once since 2013), and struggles with control 3.54 BB/9. The Twins would do well to leave Cashner alone after a year where he was more lucky than good.

Alex Cobb

Cobb would be an interesting free agent acquisition for the Twins, particularly if the Jim Hickey to Twins pitching coach rumors come to fruition. The 30 year old made $4.2 million in 2017 and is due for a substantial raise in a thin FA market, despite missing 2015 and part of 2016 after undergoing TJ surgery. The deceptive righty put up a 3.66 ERA (4.24 xFIP), an OK 6.5 K/9, and great control (2.29 BB/9). Cobb underwent an evolution in 2017 in which he dramatically increased his LOB%, despite increased hard contact, fly ball percentage, and decreased ground ball rate. Cobb used his curve significantly more in 2017, throwing it 34% of the time (up from 22% in 2016). This pitch turned into a major weapon for Cobb, adding a value of 6 runs over the course of his season. Cobb will likely have a strong market in the off-season due to a poor smattering of SP free agents.

Tyler Chatwood

Chatwood is an interesting option for the Twins. The 27 year old was the definition of a league average pitcher (if you factor in Coors Field) in 2017 (4.27 xFIP, 7.31 K/9). Chatwood’s biggest issue remains an unacceptably high walk rate 4.69 BB/9, which was by far the highest of his career. Chatwood repeatedly escaped trouble thanks to a ground ball rate of around 60% (compared to league average of around 45%). Despite an uptick in fastball velocity (to 95.3 mph), Chatwood saw that pitch be dominated at Coors Field. A move to Target Field could potentially suit his pitch mix and push him into the realms of above average starter.

Lance Lynn

I initially saw Lynn as ‘the bigger name candidate the Twins might push for’ but upon reflection, I don’t think the Twins would be willing to pay the money Lynn would command, given a closer look at his season. Lynn put together an impressive 3.43 ERA, despite an xFIP of 4.75. He had a decent K rate of 7.39 and a typically high 3.77 BB/9. Lynn is also a year removed from Tommy John surgery in 2016, so there is a chance his second season back improves some of his peripheral numbers. Lynn relies heavily on a solid fastball and slider combination and falls in line with league averages for ground ball/fly ball percentages. He would undoubtedly be a good fit with the Twins exceptional outfield defense. Lynn made $7.5 million last year and will likely earn significantly more than that over a deal which might be his last long term contract. I would not expect the Twins to make a strong push here.

While the Twins should make a push to bolster their rotation their best option may be through a trade. With a strong lineup which happens to be the youngest in the majors, the Twins have solid prospect depth in outfield positions. Next, I’ll look at what the anatomy of a trade for a young, controllable starting pitcher might look like.


Free Agent Possibilities – Bullpen Help for the Minnesota Twins

If the reemergence of the Yankees in the 2017 postseason has proven anything, it’s that a team can ride a bullpen to and through October success. In advance of the 2017 season, the Twins new front office tandem of Derrick Falvey and Thad Levine did little to bolster a group which consistently struggled in 2016. They brought in Matt Belisle on a guaranteed one year deal. He struggled initially, May punctuated by a bloated ERA over 12.00 with opposing hitters approaching a Hard% of 50%. A dramatic improvement in the second half of the season coincided with the Twins parting with their best reliever, Brandon Kintzler, who was traded to the Nationals prior to their annual elimination game self-destruct in the NLDS at the hands of the Cubs.

The Twins 2017 bullpen was not without bright spots. Trevor Hildenberger emerged not only as the answer to a future Twins related Jeopardy question but also as the Twins best bullpen option. The 5th round pick from the 2014 draft ended his meteoric rise with 9.43 K/9, 1.29 BB/9 and a 2.29 xFIP, cementing his position as the Twins most reliable setup option moving into 2018. Alan Busenitz also showed flashes of promise, more grounded in outstanding stuff than outstanding numbers, his lack of command offset by Twins fans desperate desire for the 27 year old to tip the scales of the swap of MLB scrap that was the Ricky Nolasco for Hector Santiago trade.

Despite the bright spots the Twins pen labored again in 2017, finishing 22nd in MLB by WAR overall, after a terrible first half (0.2 cumulative WAR, good for 28th overall) and a much more promising 2nd half (2.0 WAR god for 14th in the span). With the bullpen ERA not matching some of its peripheral numbers, a large part of its improvement was seemingly rooted in a drastically improved defense (namely Byron Buxton). Let’s take a look at teams at the top of the list; Yankees, Indians, Dodgers, Red Sox, I’ll stop. The top of the bullpen rankings is a who’s who of playoff contenders, with Cubs, Nationals, and Twins ranking as the worst 3 bullpens of playoff qualifying teams (let’s remind ourselves of how all three teams were eliminated!). Given that the Twins have some payroll flexibility and a strong lineup returning in 2018, bolstering the bullpen maybe the highest leverage and most cost-efficient way for the team to make the move from good to great.

The Twins declined Glenn Perkins $6.5 million team option on Wednesday the team is clearly in need of some high quality, high experience arms. The Twins have a stable of young, potentially high impact arms within their own system including John Curtiss and Jake Reed, both of whom had success moving through the Milb ranks in 2017, with Curtiss making and struggling in his MLB debut. Here’s a look at some names they might target with free agency approaching.

Jake McGee – The 31 year old left hander was extremely effective in the unfriendly confines of Coors Field in 2017, posting a 1.7 WAR, a 2.93 FIP, and a 9.1 SO/9. The Twins current left handed options are wither unproven (Gabriel Moya), or inconsistent (Taylor Rogers, Buddy Boshers). McGee made $5.9 million in 2017, and after a strong season, should command a slightly higher average annual salary over a multiyear deal.

Tony Watson – the 32 year old lefty may end up with a World Series ring before the season is over, having been traded to the Dodgers from Pittsburgh mid-season. Watson struggled this season with the Pirates, but after being traded, dramatically increased his ground ball rate (41%-61%, and dramatically increased his strikeout rate. Watson made $5.6 million in 2017 and would likely come at a similar cost to McGee.

Addison Reed – Reed was traded from the Mets to Boston midseason and may appeal to the Twins who lack an obvious closer and will likely be priced out of the Wade Davis/Greg Holland sweepstakes. Reed will be expensive in his own right (he made $7.75 million in 2017), he earned that figure with an outstanding season in which he posted a 2.4 WAR, and 9.3 SO/9. Reed may still be outside the Twins budget given the hefty contract he should command.

Bryan Shaw – perhaps the most speculated over FA RHP and the one who makes the most sense. The obstacle in signing Shaw may simply be – why would he want to leave Cleveland? The 29 year old Shaw has the arm 7.6-9.3 SO/9 in the last 3 seasons with the Indians and the connection with Derrick Falvey which may land him in Minnesota. Shaw would most likely be the cheapest of the 4 options having made $4.6 million in 2017, and a higher leverage role than he had in Cleveland may be a tempting proposition for the hard throwing righty.