Sunday, November 09, 2008

AFL Arms

OK - and we're back. Apparently a Phillies World Series victory is enough to make me black out for a week and a half. We'll try and get back up and running hear slowly as we start to digest some of the lastest offseason news. But first, I wanted to check in on some of our boys in Arizona.....

The Twins biggest problem last year was their bullpen, and you would think it would be the most talked about offseason topic. It hasn't been, and there are some very good and bad reasons for that.
The worst is that it's a hard topic. Even those of us who follow baseball obsessively can only name a few middle relief free agents, and judging which of those are truly desirable (as opposed to who had the best stats) is even more guesswork. It's also hard to make it interesting to baseball fans, let alone the casual Minnesota sports fan.

A better reason was that the Twins should return a fair amount of the arms they had available last year. Joe Nathan and Jesse Crain are under contract, Craig Breslow and Jose Mijares are completely under the Twins control, and the Twins can (and probably will) keep Matt Guerrier if they offer him arbitration. Add the recovering Pat Neshek to that group and you have your six guys. But that's not terribly encouraging to the Twins fans who saw that group lose so many games last year.

But there was another good reason, too, and that's why I was interested in what is going on in Arizona. The Twins looked towards the end of last year like they had some bullpen reinforcements coming up through the minors, and they sent several of them to play in the Arizona Fall League this year.

The AFL is an interesting league. It's often thought of as being almost a "4A" league, but that isn't really true - the level of play in AAA is higher than it is in the AFL. But many highly touted prospects are featured there, so the talent level is high, if not the level of play. It's also heavy on offense, since teams are more likely to extend the season of some of the better hitting prospects while playing it cautious with some of their pitching prospects. It's almost an ideal situation for a team to get a sense if some of their prospective bullpen arms are ready to face a higher level.

Unfortunately for the Twins, there hasn't been much evidence that they are. The Twins sent three relievers to pitch for the Phoenix Devil Dogs, one from each of their three highest minor league levels. And none of them are posting particularly good numbers.

Tim Lahey - Lahey spent most of last year in AAA-Rochester, though he saw a little time on other team's major league rosters (but not any games) as a Rule 5 draft pick. He's a converted catcher that supposedly throws in the 90s and gets a lot of ground balls. Early with Rochester he was lights out, but he ended up having a pretty mediocre year.

In the AFL, the good news is that this right-hander has just a 1.04 ERA. That bad news is that the rest of his numbers are pretty underwhelming, and with just 8.2 inning pitched, those are the ones you are more likey to trust. The really bad news is that he's doing the best of the Twins trio of bullpen arms.

Rob Delaney - Delaney ended the year in AA-New Britain after a midseason promotion, and there were a fair amount of Twins fans hoping he would be promoted even higher than that. He looked like the best bullpen arm of this bunch, combining a dominant stikeout rate (83K in 81 IP) with solid control (just 16 walks).

But his AFL numbers are fairly ugly. The ugliest is the 8.10 ERA, but really, the underlying numbers don't look to good either - 9 hits in 6.2 IP with 6 K and 3 BB. On the other hand, he's been in 7 games and had 5 holds, so maybe this is just a couple of bad outings. Still, it's not going to be the kind of performance to ease worried minds in the front office.

Anthony Slama - Slama ended up being the closer in High A-Fort Myers after Delaney left, and the best adjective I heard to describe his numbers was "video-game stats". Consider: 71 innings pitched, 110 strikeouts, a 1.01 ERA and 0 home runs. That's damn close to a perfect season. At any level.

His AFL season hasn't been as perfect. It's only 6.1 IP, but he's given up 8 hits, only struck out 6, walked four and has a 1.89 WHIP (Walk + Hits/Innings Pitched). His WHIP in Fort Myers was half of that - .94. Again, this isn't the end of the world, but it's not going to convince decision makers that one of these guys will be laying in the weeks, ready to contribute.

All of which likely means that the Twins are going to be in the market for some relief help this offseason, and that they probably should be. In fact, it should probably be their top priority. Which likely means I'm going to need to start researching a hard topic - free agent middle relievers.

Sigh. Sounds like I picked the wrong week to stop blacking out.


TT said...

I think it was clear these guys aren't ready to be immediate help. If the Twins thought they were close, they would have been called up last fall along with Mijares.

None of them had just one bad outing, but Lahey gave up 5 hits and his only run in his first two games. He only gave up 4 hits over the remainder of the season. He looks like he is closest to being ready. Which shouldn't surprise anyone since he was the one at AAA last year. Often it is a lot more informative to watch how the Twins move players rather than looking at their stats.

Of course, Delaney is every college player's fantasy. A guy who didn't even get drafted who looks like he might play in the major leagues.

Anonymous said...

Glad to have you back, John. Congrats to you and TVOR on the Phillies' championship.

I can't help noticing, though, some signs of rustiness after your long layoff:

"though he saw a little time on other team's major league rosters..."

"He's a converted catcher that supposedly throws..."

"there were a fair amount of Twins fans..."

Maybe you need to spend some more time in the training room before your next start. ;-)

Seriously, thanks for another great season of informative analyses on the Twins.

Nick N. said...

Good blurb, but I'm not going to put any real stock into 6-7 innings in the AFL. I'd hope the Twins wouldn't either.

Often it is a lot more informative to watch how the Twins move players rather than looking at their stats.

And sometimes it's not. Think Matt Moses.

TT said...

"Matt Moses"

You think Moses being back at AA is a mistake and doesn't indicate anything about his prospects? Because his AA numbers clearly indicate he is not ready to move up. And his numbers in A ball clearly indicated he was ready.

A better example would be Brian Buscher who started 2007 at AA and even Terry Ryan admitted was surprise. But then he got moved up to AAA which proves the point.

The fact is the Twins have a much better handle on players' skills than you can discover just by looking at results.

Nick N. said...

The point is that Moses was moved too quickly to begin with. He was pushed to Triple-A as a 22-year-old despite having had no real success in Double-A.

In looking at the way the Twins handled him rather than his stats, as you suggest, we could come away with the assumption that Moses was a hot prospect who had the talent to move quickly throught he system and adjust, but in reality he's proven to be exactly the player his stats have mostly shown him to be: an undisciplined hitter with disappointing power and a non-improving plate approach. Now he finds himself back down in Double-A and coming off his worst season yet as a pro.

Nick N. said...

Also, John, while you're on the subject of Twins' relievers playing offseason ball, it's worth noting that Jose Mijares is doing very well in the Venezuelan Winter League. In eight appearances for the Tigres de Aragua, he has posted a 0.00 ERA and 10/2 K/BB ratio with five hits allowed over 7 2/3 innings. Lahey, Delaney and Slama are all candidates to help the team at some point next year, but Mijares is the guy who could be there from the very start.

TT said...

The point is that Moses was moved too quickly to begin with. He was pushed to Triple-A as a 22-year-old despite having had no real success in Double-A.

I wasn't suggesting every Twins prospect was a success. Moses has not hit as well at AA as he did before he was briefly promoted. That would suggest the problem was not that he got promoted too quickly. He just never developed the way he was expected too.

More to the point, it has nothing to do with over-valuing players, based on their results, who haven't been promoted. Which is the situation with Slama and Delaney.