Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Enthusiasms

“A man becomes preeminent, he’s expected to have enthusiasms. Enthusiasms. Enthusiasms… What are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which give me joy? Baseball!”

- Al Capone in The Untouchables

I know better than to dispute Capone, especially after watching the end of that scene. But I wonder if we don’t need to temper our enthusiasms a little regarding a couple of saviors that are seemingly “stuck” in Rochester.

Trevor Plouffe
It’s been suggested that it is time to recall Plouffe from Rochester again, to play – well – his role is unclear beyond hitting the ball hard. Maybe to start at second base, or at first base or in all kinds of places at once, like Bugs Bunny. So long as we aren’t expecting him to make too many throws from shortstop, his .663(!) slugging percentage in AAA this year could play just about anywhere.

I’m fine with that.

But understand that the Trevor Plouffe that we have seen this year is NOT the Trevor Plouffe that has been in the Twins system since 2004. He’s never had an OPS over 736 in any stop in the minors – and now he’s at 1047. He’s 25 years old and in his FOURTH season at AAA. He also hit all of .200 in his admittedly short (71 plate appearances) time with the Twins this year. So that .308 batting average with 15 home runs that we’re seeing in his 196 plate appearances in AAA is either:

a) a huge fluke
b) a huge breakthrough
c) a little of both.

Personally, I’m going with “c.” Want to know what number encourages me the most? 32 strikeouts vs 20 walks. For most of his career, that ratio was anywhere from 2:1 to 3:1, and now it’s about 1.5:1. He’s drawing a lot more walks than he has at any other time in his career. That might be just a result of hitting well and for power, but it’s almost always a good sign when you see that kind of leap. It’s the same thing that happened to Denard Span when he broke through in 2008.

I’m optimistic that the Twins 1st round choice from 2004 can be an everyday player in the major leagues – maybe a very good one. I also agree that now is as good a time as any to promote him. But pointing to home run totals that far exceed anything he has ever done before is borderline deceptive. He’s not that guy. We shouldn’t let our enthusiams get the better of us.

Kyle Gibson
Somewhere along the line the term “future ace” got attached to Gibson’s name. My sense is that is taking things a little too far. Let’s see how he’s doing and compare him to some other Twins who were hyped at his age.

There is a lot to like, to be sure. As a 23-year-old in Rochester, he’s having more success than his 3.87 ERA (itself, pretty good) suggests. His hits (85) per inning pitched (81.1) are about even, which is about average. His control looks excellent with a 4:1 strikeout (83) to walk (21) ratio. But the stat that gets prospect hounds’ attention is that he’s striking out a guy per inning this year. That’s even more encouraging because it improves on what he did last year (126K in 152 IP).

Compare that to two other guys who also had their first extensive time at Rochester as 23-year-olds. Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey both had very good profiles. They matched Gibson in most ways – hits, control - but neither had quite that good of a strikeout rate. It isn’t unreasonable to expect that Gibson could be better than either of them, which would be nice considering they’ve both been up and down so far in their careers. Certainly neither could be described as an ace entering this year.

Now compare those numbers to a third guy in the rotation who spent most of his time in Rochester as a 21-year-old: Francisco Liriano. Liriano showed the same control, but he was striking out 11 guys per nine innings and giving up just 56 hits in 91 innings. Now THAT’S a guy who profiles to be an ace – and even then he’s had a rocky road.

Gibson is more than his stats obviously. He seems like a genuinely good guy, and people also like to talk about his sinker, and how it induces a lot of ground balls. I’ll just note that neither his hit or home runs totals suggest that the latter is a particularly significant factor yet.

Finally, I’ll throw one more name out there. Matt Garza threw 92 inning in Rochester as a 23-year-old before being called up to help the 2007 Twins. His numbers at Rochester over that time are almost identical to Gibson’s. Since he’s been promoted to the majors, he’s posted a career 3.98 ERA and has been a workhorse, averaging close to 200 innings per year.

Of course, he’s also on his third team, in part due to some well-publicized attitude issues. Could Gibson be a Garza, with fewer strikeouts but more ground ball tendencies, and without the head case issues? That’s something to be excited about. I don’t know if “future ace” applies, but enthusiams are justified.

The Twins control all five members of their starting rotation for next year, and you can add Kevin Slowey and Anthony Swarzak to that list if you like. But I’d have trouble listing Gibson as trade bait for anything but the biggest fish. He might truly be one of The Untouchables.

7 comments:

SethSpeaks said...

It's funny. I'm touting Plouffe being promoted, and I've never even said that he needs to be a starter. He just needs to be on the bench ahead of the likes of a third catcher or Matt Tolbert. I like that he can play multiple positions and can be a good bench guy. He could play some 1B and be a solid regular. He's not a 1.000 OPS guy by any means, but he can be a good big league bat. Upside is just below what Cuddyer is... worst case is still better than Luke Hughes.

As for Gibson, I've been touting all of those numbers too, but I've really tried to not use the word "ace" with him. He just doesn't profile that way. As you wrote a couple of days ago, "Ace" is just a term. I think Gibson can be as good as Baker, and he's pretty close to an ace. At the end of that day, I think that's exciting!

JimCrikket said...

Great post, John.

I've always been so-so on the issue of Gardy as a manager, feeling he's better than his critics give him credit for and not as good as those who praise everything he does. All that said, I think calling Rochester and telling Nieto to put Plouffe at 1B until further notice is a terrific move. Like Seth, I think it just makes little sense to have two light-hitting catchers, if you've got a guy like Plouffe available. But the position he could be most useful at is 1B and getting him experience there in Rochester is critical.

Gibson may be an "ace", but I don't think anyone should expect that of any minor league pitcher. The difference between an ace and a solid #2-#3 pitcher is often more about how he adapts mentally and competitively at the big league level than talent. You don't know which guys differentiate themselves until they get to top level.

TT said...

Gibson's ERA is now 4.17 compared to Baker's 3.01 at the same age. Baker got almost 75% of the batters he faced out. Gibson is getting less than 70% out. While Gibson has been striking out batters at a slightly higher rate than Baker did, most of the K/9 difference results from getting fewer batters out.

I would remind you that "Ace" Baker was in a competition with Slowey at the end of spring training for the 5th spot in the rotation. He's pitched well so far, but there is still a half season to go.

Plouffe's power is not really a surprise. He was always projected to have some power when he filled out. Nature doesn't mature players any faster because they are playing at AAA. I don't really think his bat works at first base in the long run. He needs to have a different defensive position, but first base is what's open right now.

SoCalTwinsfan said...

It's amazing how a week here and a week there can color everyone's perception of a player. It was like a month or less ago that there was talk of Danny Valencia being demoted or at least benched in favor of Luke Hughes. Now Hughes is benched for Jason Repko against a righty. Hughes was never that great of a hitter, but a solid bench guy to be a decent righty platoon for Kubel or Thome or to give Casilla a break against a lefty. However, Hughes' career AA and AAA numbers are better than Plouffe's. Plouffe had a great start to his season in the majors, but cooled off pretty fast. It's hard to believe that he figured out his problems in AAA so quickly.

TT said...

"However, Hughes' career AA and AAA numbers are better than Plouffe's."

That isn't really true and Plouffe is two years younger than Hughes.

AAA
Plouffe .261/.315/.451
Hughes .256/.326/.444

AA
Plouffe .272/.326/.410
Hughes .288/.357/.480

Hughes was older when he arrived at AA than Plouffe was the last time he played there. So adjusting for age, Plouffe actually did much better at both levels.

Jim H said...

I know that tt is not the most popular poster in the Twins blogsphere, but his recent posts on BABIP, IP, ERA, and K/9 should be required reading for all bloggers. While tt does pick nits, far too often, he is nearly always basically right. His points about the above stats are spot on. All stats can be misused, and when people don't really understand them that well, they really get misused a lot.

Geek's post here is very good. People tend to like prospects a lot when they are far away(say Rochester) but not quite so much when we see them up close on our TV. I think Plouffe is like he has been pretty much since he was signed, one of the Twins top prospects. He probably isn't so valuable however, unless he can play everyday at either ss or 2b. If his glove isn't good enough to be an everyday middle infielder, his bat probably won't keep him in the lineup everyday.

I doubt if we will see Gibson this year in the majors. He isn't consistently pitching beyond the
6th inning and I suspect the Twins will limit his pitching even more when the season gets into August. I think the term Ace is often misused. Even Bert was only really an ace about 3 years in his whole career. Having said that, Gibson could very well become one. If it happens it will be down the road aways. Right now, he probably isn't as good as any of the 5 starters currently with the Twins.

Jack Steal said...

John,

This is your best post yet.