Archive for May, 2009

Week Nine Two-Start Pitchers Update

Here is the latest update to Week 9 two-start pitchers. Again this list is subject to change going forward.

Pitchers not listed on last update

LAD – Kuroda
PHI – Bastardo
TEX – Padilla
CLV – Sowers

Pitchers from Friday no longer scheduled for two starts

STL – Wainwright
LAD – Kershaw
PHI – Myers
TEX – Holland

Kuroda has been on the disabled list since his Opening Day start, in which he went 5 2/3 innings and allowed just one run. He felt a pain in his side during a side session and went on the DL April 10th. Kuroda is expected to be activated for a start Monday against Arizona. If all goes well he’ll have his second home start in the week against Philadelphia.

Bastardo is being pressed into service in place of the injured Myers. He has appeared in nine games (five starts) at Double-A this year along with two starts at Triple-A. The lefty from the Dominican Republic has good numbers, with a K/9 of 10.13 at Double-A. The 23-year-old reaches the low 90s with his fastball and also throws a changeup and a slider.

Padilla is currently on the DL with a strained muscle behind his pitching shoulder. He is expected to be activated and start on Tuesday against the Yankees. It does not get easier later in the week, when Padilla faces the Red Sox.

Sowers opened the season with two poor starts and found himself in Triple-A. He came back to Cleveland as a reliever and pitched five shutout innings earning another shot in the rotation to replace Zach Jackson. With Anthony Reyes and Aaron Laffey also fighting injuries, Sowers’ stay in the majors should be longer this go round.


I would like to offer a special note of condolences to Nationals rookie Craig Stammen, who has the misfortune of facing both Tim Lincecum and Johan Santana this week.

Where Have You Gone, Fausto?

Remember when Fausto Carmona looked like Cleveland’s ace-in-waiting? As a 23 year-old back in 2007, Carmona compiled a 3.94 Fielding Independent ERA in 215 innings pitched. The Dominican Republic native employed a devastating, hard sinker (93.5 MPH) that generated groundballs by the bucketful (64.3%, bested only by Derek Lowe). That extreme worm burning, coupled with a passable strikeout rate (5.73 K/9) and fairly sharp control (2.55 BB/9) led many to believe that the 6-4, 230 pounder could be headed for a Lowe-esque career path, minus the years of relief work and long wait to crack the starting rotation.

These days, though? Carmona looks more Sean Lowe than Derek Lowe.

Carmona’s 2008 season was marred by a hip injury that limited him to 120 innings. His FIP climbed nearly a full run, up to 4.89. While he still kept his infielders on their toes (63.5 GB%), his K rate fell to 4.33 per nine innings. Far more troubling was his total lack of control: Carmona’s walk rate soared to 5.22, the highest figure among all starters tossing at least 120 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio plummeted from 2.25 in 2007 to a Daniel Cabrera-like 0.83 in 2008. Ironically, Cabrera (1.06 K/BB) actually beat Carmona, who ranked dead last in K/BB ratio among starting pitchers.

Entering 2009, there still remained hope that a mended Carmona would round into his 2007 form. But with each passing, disappointing outing, that looks less and less likely. In 58.2 innings, the 25 year-old owns a wretched 5.62 FIP, the product of 5.37 K/9 and 5.83 BB/9 (Carmona again brings up the rear among qualified starters in walks per nine innings and ranks second-to-last in K/BB ratio. Thanks, Jon Garland.)

Carmona’s collapse has been stunning, both for its suddenness and his age. Like the recently DFA’D Cabrera, Carmona is a young man who has seemingly lost every mote of consistency and talent that made him one of the more impressive young hurlers a few seasons ago. Relying heavily upon a sinking fastball, Fausto has lost velocity on the offering since his banner ’07 season:

2007: thrown 75% of the time, 93.5 MPH
2008: thrown 80.9%, 92.8 MPH
2009: thrown 81.4%, 92.5 MPH

Only Colorado’s Aaron Cook (86.6%) goes to his sinker more often than Carmona among starters. Disturbingly, that once-hellish pitch is now decidedly below-average. Take a look at Carmona’s not-so-turbo sinker, through Fan Graphs’ new pitch linear weights section. Below are Fausto’s run values for his fastball per 100 pitches, from 2007 to 2009 (a positive number indicates that a pitch saves more runs than average per 100 pitches, while a negative figure indicates that the pitch is below average):

2007: +0.57
2008: -0.15
2009: -1.52

Over the past few years, Carmona’s sinker has lost over two runs per 100 pitches in value. When that’s your bread-and-butter offering and a pitch thrown over three-quarters of the time, you have a serious problem on your hands.

Locating just 44.5% of his pitches within the strike zone (49% MLB average), Carmona has seen opponents become increasingly content to just keep the bat on their shoulders. Predictably, his three-year down slope in placing his offerings in the zone has coincided with fewer and fewer hacks by opponents:

2007: 51.4 Zone%, 47.9 Swing%
2008: 50.8 Zone%, 45.1 Swing%
2009: 44.5 Zone%, 42.9 Swing%

Carmona’s fall has been as severe as any pitcher’s in recent years, as he’s gone from a hurler worth 4.3 Wins in 2007 to a guy who’s just keeping his head above the replacement level waters in 2009 (0.2 WAR so far). In what’s shaping up to be another disappointing summer in Cleveland, Carmona’s devolving from organizational pillar to pinata ranks as one of the most bitter pills to swallow. Maybe those midges were a warning sign.

RotoGraphs Mailbag – 5/29/09

Haven’t seen a mailbag since the 14th and wanted to get your thoughts on this.

I am in a 12 team (2 division) mixed H2H league with 10 starters (normal position players and 2 utility spots) that scores 14 categories, 7 of which are offensive (R, HR, RBI, SB, AVG, SLG, OBP). We have four keepers. Roster sizes are 30 players per team.

Is it wise to deal Sizemore to an out of division opponent for R. Zimmerman and J. Upton? I have a decent outfield absent Sizemore with Pence, Ludwick and Bruce in my rotation. Aramis Ramirez is my (injured) 3B and I have been using Andy LaRoche and Scutaro there in the meantime. I have two rock-solid keepers in Reyes and Pujols and intriguing options for the remaining two spots should I deal Sizemore (potentials include A. Gonzalez, Bruce, the two players I am receiving).

My team is current in 4th overall and considering injuries and performances of some starters figures to only get better.

Thanks, Big Oil

Thanks for the question, and since readership has been high for these, we will continue to do them.

My initial response is that I don’t like the deal. If you only keep four, you always want to consolidate your keeper talent. That much is probably not news to you, but Grady Sizemore blend of speed and power is matched by only a handful of players. Owning him puts you ahead of the game because you don’t need to pick a speed-only guy high in the draft – if at all.

Upon a closer review, I can see the enticement. Your current third basemen are not up to snuff in a mixed league, and though you are competing now, you may fall behind without Aramis Ramirez and his considerable production at the hot corner. I don’t fault you for looking for a better option at third base, not at all.

However, I still go with ‘no,’ even after more reflection. I don’t want you to keep a second 1B (Adrian Gonzalez is good, but first base is a deep position), and Jay Bruce and Justin Upton are exciting players that probably won’t steal like Sizemore. Upton is close, as he is on pace for over 15 stolen bases this year and has always shown good speed in the minors.

But speed is not his game like Sizemore’s. Consider that Sizemore stole 96 bases in the minors (in 529 games) while Upton totaled 36 in 231 games. Er, that was a suprising statistic. Guess it makes sense that Upton’s four-component speed score of 6.7 this year would better Sizemore’s since 2006.

Hmmm. On second thought, fly that flag. Go for the win and do the trade. Upton looks like a good consolation prize right now, and at 21 is coming into his own. You can deal your surplus 3B at the end of the year if you want to consolidate keepers.

In a 12 team mixed league, I have a staff of Sabathia, Chamberlain, Greinke, Kershaw, Porcello, Maholm, and Sonnanstine. I am going with 2 closers and am using Joba’s RP status to plug in an extra starter. I also had Kawakami on my bench, but dumped him and someone else scooped him up. I am growing impatient with Sonny and am wondering if I should cut bait and pick up someone else. I am near the top of ERA, WHIP, Wins, but could use more Ks and could go back to 3 true RPs. Any thoughts?

Thanks! K.G.

Andy Sonnanstine shouldn’t be owned in most formats. Seriously, I took a longer look at his stats than I deemed necessary, and I still didn’t see anything I liked.

His mediocre stuff just holds him back. While he’s still not walking too many to be productive (2.92 per nine), he’s still not striking out enough to really matter (5.29 K/9). How is he going to strike people out with an 87 MPH fastball, an 87 MPH cutter, a 77 MPH slider, and a 74 MPH curveball? That’s just too many pitches at the same speed with similar movement.

Look at this chart for his vertical movement. You can see why he’s suddenly using his cutter more, because it’s the only one that moves differently on the vertical plane. Consider that his cutter used to move less, and the possibility of a regression to an already-unattractive mean is not a happy thought.

Sonnanstine is a decent number four or five in real life baseball, just on the basis of his stinginess with the walks. That shouldn’t be too attractive in fantasy baseball. Go find a reliever that might get you some saves. (Oh and trade Paul Maholm high, because he’s got too much in common with Sonnanstine to get comfortable with him.)

Our email address for this feature is, so send in your questions! Remember to try to give us all relevant information in the fewest words possible, and you’ll be all set.

What’s a Wieters?

To answer the headline’s question, a Wieters is numerus ûnus catcherus prospectus… or in a language that is understandable by the rest of humankind: the number one catching prospect (if not the No. 1 prospect generally speaking) in all of Major League Baseball.

In case you haven’t heard, the Baltimore Orioles organization has promoted catcher Matt Wieters to the Majors and he is expected to make his long-awaited Major League debut tonight against the Detroit Tigers. The switch-hitting catcher’s promotion has been the most anticipated call-up of the season (with apologies to David Price, who actually debuted last year).

Selected fifth overall in the 2007 amateur draft out of Georgia Tech University, the talented backstop was in the mix to go No. 1 overall (Price was nabbed there by Tampa Bay instead) but his price tag and advisor (Mr. Scott Boras, come on down…) scared away the first four clubs in the draft. Probably no other club (and fan base) is more upset over the decision to pass on The Wieters than the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, which chose fourth and took college left-handed reliever Daniel Moskos out of Clemson University.

The Pirates converted Moskos into a starting pitcher, watched him post a 5.95 ERA and then threatened to send him back to the ‘pen. In 2009, as Wieters prepares to don his catching gear for his MLB debut, Moskos is struggling in double-A with a 4.53 ERA in nine games. He’s allowed 51 hits in 45.2 innings of work and he’s struck out just 17 batters… which is a dismally-bad 3.35 K/9. There had best be a blackout in the Pittsburgh area tonight for the Orioles’ broadcast on It could get ugly… and very, very depressing.

Anyway, back to happier thoughts. For Orioles fans, Wieters represents another cog in what should be a very good Orioles team over the next decade. Along with the new catcher, the club also has some impressive outfielders including Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold (and some guy named Felix Pie, if he ever realizes his potential). Second baseman Brian Roberts is a great veteran leader, and he’s still only 31 years old.

Within the next year, the club’s brutal pitching staff should receive help from a trio of talented starters: RHP Chris Tillman, LHP Brian Matusz, and RHP Jake Arrieta. RHP David Hernandez just had his solid MLB debut last night, and appears to have the potential to be a good No. 4 starter. And RHP Brandon Erbe should not be forgotten about, either.

Much like Wieters, don’t expect miracles with the club overnight. He is not going to instantly transform the club into a winner – and he’s probably not going to pull an Albert Pujols and become the best hitter in baseball within the first week of his career. Wieters, though, does have an outside shot at winning the American League Rookie of the Year award, if he can put up half decent numbers. The current race leader is probably Detroit’s Rick Porcello (whom, sadly, Wieters will miss facing in his debut series). Beyond that, there is not much to get excited about this year in terms of rookie performances (so far).

Speaking of rookies, Wieters (who turned 23 last week) should have better long-term potential then, say, last year’s National League Rookie of the Year (and catcher) Geovany Soto of the Chicago Cubs, who’s looked brutal this season (and pretty much every other year of the 26-year-old’s nine-year career, save for 2007 and 2008). Seriously, what’s up with Soto?

Wieters’ numbers have been down at triple-A in 2009, in part due to a slow start (.260 in April) and in part due to a minor injury that kept him out of the lineup for a few games. Overall, though, his numbers on the year are still solid at .305/.387/.504 in 39 games, which gives you a pretty good idea of just how awesome people expect him to be… because those numbers would be a pretty nice triple-slash line for a lot of people during their career year.

The best part about Wieters is, while he has the best offensive potential for any catcher this side of Mike Piazza, he’s not all offense. The Orioles prospect is also a very good (definitely not just average) defensive catcher. He threw out about 40 percent of base stealers last year, calls a great game and receives the ball very well.

The hype on Wieters is justified. Let’s enjoy the show.

Duke (Finally) Getting Some Defensive Love

As a pitch-to-contact starter playing in front of lead-gloved fielders, Zach Duke and the Pittsburgh Pirates went together about as well as oil and water.

Duke zoomed on to the scene back in 2005, posting a promising 2.52 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a 22 year-old. While his 1.81 ERA and a low HR/FB rate (4.5%) in 84.2 innings led to some outsized expectations, Duke had plenty going for him. Whiffing 6.17 batters per nine innings, the Texan also kept the free passes in check (2.44 BB/9). His Expected Fielding Independent ERA (XFIP, based on K’s walks and a normalized HR/FB rate) checked in at a quality 3.66.

As a full-time rotation member in 2006, Duke compiled a 4.47 ERA in 215.1 innings. His XFIP climbed to 4.60, as his K rate fell below five (4.89) and his walk rate rose (2.84). Duke was putting the ball in play more often, and his BABIP rose from .296 to .327. The Bucs (28th in team UZR/150) were awful with the gloves in ’06, featuring defensive disasters at multiple positions (Jeromy Burnitz still sends Dave Littlefield postcards for that cool $6.7 million he pulled down that year).

Duke’s young career reached its nadir the following year. His ability to fool hitters completely evaporated as he dealt with left elbow tendinitis. He posted a grisly 5.53 ERA in 107.1 innings. Things certainly weren’t going swimmingly (he K’d just 3.44 batters per nine innings with a 4.79 XFIP), but a .360 BABIP would be enough to make any pitcher curse his fate. Overall, Pittsburgh was about league-average defensively (18th in team UZR/150). But when Duke took the hill, they fielded about as well as a team of Adam Dunn’s.

2008 followed a similar pattern, though not quite as extreme. With a .327 BABIP and 4.23 whiffs per nine innings, Duke compiled a 4.82 ERA (4.81 XFIP). The Bucs were again among the fielding laggards, placing 22nd in team UZR/150.

After a couple years of listless showings with the leather, the Pirates have actually been a plus defensive team in 2009. Pittsburgh ranks third in the majors in UZR/150, trailing only the surprising Brewers and the Rays (who orchestrated a historic defensive turnaround last season). Nyjer Morgan, Brandon Moss, Jack Wilson and Andy LaRoche are all on the plus side, with Adam LaRoche and Nate McLouth a few runs in the negative. Only Freddy Sanchez (-8.6 UZR) is deep in the red among regular starters.

With better support behind him, Duke has posted a .268 BABIP in 2009. In 72 frames, his ERA sits at 2.75. He’s more than likely not going to keep up that level of performance (his XFIP is 4.34), but Duke has a 2.47 K/BB ratio this year after failing to crack two over the past three seasons.

Duke is pitching fairly well, and he’s now being aided by his defense instead of watching them boot easy plays and fail to track balls that most big leaguers would reach. With an 88 MPH fastball and a kitchen-sink approach that entails more deception than brute force, Duke will always be reliant upon the quality of the fielders behind him. Luckily, those guys are picking him up where previous squads hung him out to dry.

Interesting Week Nine Two-Start Pitchers

Everyone is happy when one of their pitchers is scheduled for two starts in a week. But that is not always a good thing. Here are five pitchers you may be on the fence about (or should be on the fence) putting into your lineup for Week 9

Bronson Arroyo – In 10 games this season, Arroyo has a 5.12 ERA and seven wins. That seems less than likely. But Arroyo has been pitching very well since allowing nine runs in one inning on May 6th. He has gone 3-1 in his last four games with a 2.90 ERA and a 1.065 WHIP. He is currently active in only 43 percent of CBS Sports leagues. Get him in the lineup this week.

Joe Blanton – After nine games he has a 6.14 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP. But the strikeouts are better than they’ve ever been (8.42 K/9), he has had a little bit of bad luck with a .354 BABIP and 4.80 FIP and he is coming off his best start ever as a member of the Phillies, with 11 strikeouts and no earned runs in seven innings. Blanton’s HR/9 sits at an ugly 1.58 but he has road games at pitcher-friendly Petco Park and at Dodger Stadium this week. The Dodgers are 12th in the National League in home runs meaning this is a good week to get Blanton active.

A.J. Burnett – He is coming off his best outing of the season but faces a tough road this week with home games versus Texas and Tampa Bay. Burnett has allowed 10 home runs in 64 IP this year and goes up against a Rangers squad that is tied for first in the American League in homers and a Rays team that ranks third. Furthermore, Yankee Stadium has a 1.565 simple HR factor so far this year. It might be a good time to get him out of the lineup for a week.

Zach Duke – Since giving up six runs in his third start of the year, Duke has been remarkably effective, with a 2.66 ERA in his last seven starts. But it seems like he has exceeded expectations. Duke has induced fewer ground balls this season, yet has seen his HR/9 drop to 0.50. Also, he has a nifty 1.11 WHIP despite a 1.46 career mark in the category. At some point these marks are going to regress. Duke has a tough road with a matchup against Johan Santana and a trip to Houston, where he has never won in five games at Minute Maid Park.

Jarrod Washburn – Following two disappointing starts, Washburn got back on track with six shutout innings versus Oakland in his last outing. This week he gets two starts at Safeco Field, where two of his three wins have come this season. Overall, Washburn still has a very nice 3.45 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. Owned in just 32.2 percent of ESPN leagues, Washburn could be a good pickup for someone looking to strike paydirt this week with a two-start pitcher.

Other scheduled two-start pitchers in Week 9 are listed below. Please remember that these are projected pitchers and changes can and will happen between now and next week.

Santana, Halladay, Lincecum, Wainwright, Oswalt, Saunders, Chamberlain, Kershaw, Slowey, Wolf, Myers, Matsuzaka, Jimenez, Floyd, Porcello, Volquez, Parra, Kawakami, Sonnanstine, Cook, L. Hernandez, Wellemeyer, Davies, Cahill, Hill, A. Miller, Snell, Wells, Colon, Suppan, Holland, Correia, Huff, Buckner, Paulino, Stammen.

Check back Sunday night for an update of two-start pitchers.

Now, I would like to take a step back and provide some accountability for previous picks. There needs to be a two-week time lag because last week’s pitchers have yet to complete their second start. So here are my selections for Week 7 and how they did.

Nolasco –Advised to sit. 2 K, 36.00 ERA, 4.50 WHIP (1 start)
Baker – Advised to sit. W, 10 K, 4.72 ERA, 1.20 WHIP (2)
Martis – Advised to sit. 4 K, 7.50 ERA, 1.33 WHIP (2)
McCarthy – Advised to start. W, 10 K, 1.69 ERA, 1.38 WHIP (2)
Hammel – Advised to start. W, 8 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.67 WHIP (2)


Jason Varitek: Not Dead Yet

When the Boston Red Sox re-signed backstop Jason Varitek to a one-year, $5 million deal with a mutual 2010 option this past winter, questions were raised as to how much the move was motivated by emotion as opposed to empiricism. After all, ‘Tek (a Sox player since being acquired along with Derek Lowe in a July 1997 deadline deal for Heathcliff Slocumb) was entering his age-37 season, and was coming off a bleak 2008 campaign in which he posted a .299 wOBA (.220/.313/.359).

Granted, those who don the tools of ignorance generally don’t light up the scoreboard (the average catcher posted a .255/.324/.389 line in 2008), but Varitek accumulated just 1.2 Wins Above Replacement in ’08. Baseball Prospectus scribe Christina Kahrl called bringing the veteran switch-hitter back to Boston “spending money for its own sake because you didn’t spend it on things that actually help you.”

Flash forward to May 28th, as the Red Sox take on the Twins. A catcher dominates the game (well, before getting tossed, anyway). He clubs two homers, pushing his team to victory in a 3-1 affair. The backstop is shockingly in the double-digits in dingers already.

No, I’m not talking about Joe Mauer. With two solo shots yesterday afternoon, Boston’s purportedly cooked catcher now has 10 home runs on the season. Through 150 plate appearances, Varitek owns a .248/.320/.541 line, good for a .360 wOBA that ranks third among all qualified catchers. Only part-time first baseman Victor Martinez and part-time DH Mike Napoli best Varitek, so you could say that he’s the leader in the clubhouse among those who are consistently behind the dish (if you drop the PA threshold to 100 to include those bitten by the injury bug, he ranks 8th, which is still pretty impressive).

Nothing has drastically shifted in his batted ball profile or plate discipline stats, but Varitek is driving the ball as well as he ever has during the first two months of the season. His .293 ISO is leaps and bounds above any of his full-season totals; the last time he eclipsed .200 was 2005. To boot, he’s whiffing less so far, too: after K’ing a career-high 28.8% in 2008, Varitek has pared that number down to 22.6%. It’s hard to say that he’s getting lucky on balls put in play either: while his line drive percentage is low (14.3%), so is his BABIP (.247). He’s just banging plenty of extra-base hits.

Of course, it would be insane to expect this sort of performance to continue for the length of the season. However, Varitek is certainly looking like a worthy starter in deep leagues. ZiPS projects Varitek to post a .235/.326/.412 line the rest of the way. That’s not flashy, but one could do worse than giving Varitek a look. Let’s not write his baseball eulogy just yet.

Minor Impacts: May 28

Every Thursday throughout the season, Minor Impacts takes a look at some of the hottest minor league players that could have impacts at the Major League Level in the near future.

Andrew McCutchen: When the Pirates organization is done trying to save money and decides to promote Andrew McCutchen, current right-fielder Brandon Moss should be rightfully shifted back to the fourth outfielder role. For the second straight year in triple-A, McCutchen is showing the ability to play good defense, steal bases and hit for average. He currently has a triple-slash line of .291/.354/.473 with nine steals in 41 games. He’s also striking out just 10% of the time, which is excellent news for a top-of-the-order player. The club could use his spark.

Justin Turner: With the promotions of Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and Jason Berken, Baltimore has been turning to its minor league system as of late to infuse some talent into the roster in what is turning into another murky year in the AL East standings. Infielder Justin Turner, 24, has been hitting very well recently in triple-A and he could eventually take the place of disappointing utility player Robert Andino. Turner, who was acquired from Cincinnati this past off-season in the Ramon Hernandez trade, is hitting .405 in his last 10 games and .356 in May.

Wes Roemer: A big, strong right-handed pitcher, Wes Roemer has never posted flashy numbers but his base statistics have been respectable this season. Recently promoted to double-A, the former supplemental first round pick is having a lot of luck with putting the ball in play with a new emphasis on sinking the ball. He’s striking out just over five batters per nine innings but he doesn’t walk many hitters and he has yet to allow a home run in 46.2 innings this season after struggling with the long ball in 2008. Arizona could use the pitching help, so Roemer could get a look before too long, even if it’s in the bullpen.

Matt Maloney: Like Roemer, Matt Maloney is having success in 2009 despite non-sexy numbers. The 25-year-old southpaw has now spent parts of three seasons in triple-A but has yet to receive a call-up to the Majors because of the Reds’ pitching depth. This season, Maloney has walked just seven batters in more than 50 innings of work and he’s struck out 41 (7.19 K/9) so he deserves a look in the near future. With a repertoire that includes a fastball that works in the high 80s (and tops out around 91-92), as well as a plus changeup and two average breaking balls, Maloney has more than enough to survive as a solid No. 4 starter in the National League.

George Kontos: Yet another pitcher who succeeds with modest stuff, George Kontos gets lost in the Yankees system amongst some of the bigger-named prospects (with stronger arms). This right-hander, though, strikes out a healthy number of batters (8.1 k/9 career) despite working in the high 80s and low 90s. His best pitch is a slider, although he also has a curveball and changeup. Combined between double-A and triple-A this season, Kontos has allowed 36 hits and struck out 42 batters in 42.1 innings of work. Once he improves his control (19 walks), he could get a look in the bullpen with all the movement being made in the big-league bullpen this season.

Vince Mazzaro: The Oakland Athletics organization has leaned heavily on its young pitching with mixed results in 2009. The club, though, has yet to take a look at Vince Mazzaro at the Major League level. The sinker-slider pitcher is having a nice season in triple-A at the age of 22. In 50.2 innings, the right-hander has allowed just 38 hits and 16 walks (2.84 BB/9). He’s also seen just two balls leave the yard on a fly in a good hitters’ league, thanks to a 59% ground ball rate.

Twinkies in the Outfield

The Minnesota Twins are not known for their outfield. The team’s big league outfielder core sports a combined OPS under .800 that puts the group in the bottom tier of major league outfields. With such a flawed group, the way the teams uses their assets will be very important, so let’s take a look at how each is being used and how they should be used.

Denard Span – Span has elbowed his way into a solid position on this team by being pretty good at everything. His solid approach at the plate (12.3% walk rate, 16.5% strikeout rate) has continued, and his 15.9% reach percentage is 12th in the league and close to elite status. He’s much better against lefties (.914 OPS) than righties (.768 OPS), but beggars can’t be choosers.

Unfortunately for the Twins and Span, his defense is not elite. Span’s UZR at center field this year is 30 runs under average, and he really should only be used on the corners according to the numbers. In 2008, he was 43 runs in the negative in center field. Yeah, he’s getting better with the glove, but Span is a corner outfielder that hits like a center fielder. In this group, though, he probably should be an everyday starter.

Delmon Young – Here’s another Twinkie outfielder that hits like a center fielder, and the last time he played center field (2007 in Tampa Bay), he cost his team almost 45 runs per 150 games according to his UZR rating. Young is not the answer in CF, either.

The rest of his Young’s game does not emulate Span’s. Young has improved his reach rate from 50.3% in his debut to 34.4% this year, but the new number is still on par with such ‘disciplined’ luminaries as Jeff Francoeur and Jose Lopez. With a line drive number that has decreased every year in the majors, and a strike out rate over 30% this year, both the short-term and long-term views of Young’s career have plenty of warts. Moving to Minnesota has also been famously terrible for his power, and his fly ball rates have continued to drop this year. An almost-decent fly ball rate of 32.6% in Tampa has turned into a terrible 24% rate this year.

The only thing worth pointing to in Young’s resume is that his decent speed has led to a career BABIP of .345 that seems steady at this point. With a nice BABIP like that, he should be able to maintain good batting averages, and ZiPS agrees by projecting him to hit .285 from here on out. Since he offers so little everywhere else, fantasy owners should be rooting for a trade, or looking for a trade partner in their league. Some people still like Young.

Michael Cuddyer – With a career slugging percentage of .446, Cuddyer is the slugger in this outfield. He’s having a good year and seems to be recovered from his myriad health issues from last year.

Earlier in his career he struck out a little too much but he’s now settled into a sub-20% level. He reaches a bit (25.1% career), and right now he’s making contact with 66% of the balls he swings at outside the zone. With a career contact rate at 53.6%, this number may point to some coming whiffs. Another negative is that Cuddyer is in the middle of a three-year decline in fly balls. He’ll need to loft the ball a little more in order to keep getting the ball out of the yard – his 18.6% HR/FB rate is an unsustainable career high, in other words.

All of this said, something in between his 2006 and 2007 levels of production are almost certainly on the way, meaning he’ll end up with a batting average around .280 and a decent home run total. That’s another every day starter for you, and a solid starter in leagues any deeper than standard mixed leagues.

Carlos Gomez – The reason for this article has been Gomez’ ‘improving’ play recently. So far in May, he’s gone .250/.327/.354, which counts as a solid jump up from his .195/.250/.293 slash line in April. He’s done so by improving his walk rate to 8.2% and his reach rate from 36.8% to a more decent 25.2% level so far this year.

The question might still be, though, if a center fielder putting up even his improved walk rate can succeed if striking out 22.5% of the time and not showing any power. Sure, his defense in center field is the best of the bunch (15.6 UZR/150 career), but he’s currently a negative on offense. Right now, his best value would be as a defensive replacement in center field, but he’s young and the team will continue to run him out there and cost the more valuable Cuddyer, Young and Span at-bats for no real good reason. If that changes, though, Cuddyer and Span should get a nudge up in your rankings.

The A.L. Closer Report: 5/27

For the purposes of the “Closer Report” (which will be a weekly feature), we’ll place the relief aces in one of three categories: Death Grip (these guys have no chance of relinquishing the closer’s role; think Mo Rivera), In Control (a good chance of continuing to rack up the saves) and Watch Your Back (the set-up man is planning a coup d’etat as we speak).

Death Grip

Mariano Rivera, Yankees

Rivera gave up a run versus the Orioles on the 20th, but he turned in two pristine innings on the 21st (a save op versus the O’s) and the 24th against the Phillies as his counterpart (Lidge) was busy spontaneously combusting. Mo has 24 K’s and just a single walk on his ledger in 19.2 innings. A wacky HR/FB rate (31.3%) has put a damper on his numbers (relatively speaking), but he’s as nasty as ever.

Joe Nathan, Twins

Nathan has recovered nicely from a 3-run debacle against the Yankees on the 15th, with 2.2 scoreless innings in three appearances (1 save chance). His FIP sits at 3.45 for the season, with an uncharacteristic -0.01 WPA.

Bobby Jenks, White Sox

Jenks converted a save against those pesky Pirates on the 22nd, but he served up a tater to Jack Wilson on the 24th while blowing a save opportunity. His WPA comes in at 0.10 for the season, with a 4.79 FIP.

Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox

Is it time to be at least mildly concerned about Boston’s relief ace? He has given up 4 runs in his last two innings, with 11 walks in 21 innings overall. Papelbon’s fastball hasn’t been quite as effective this year: according to the new linear weights section on his player page, Papelbon’s cheddar has been worth +0.66 runs per 100 pitches in 2009, compared to +2.21 in 2008 and +3.29 in 2007.

Frank Francisco, Rangers

He’s back: Francisco came off the DL this week and didn’t skip a beat, tossing two scoreless innings and tallying one save. That’s 16.2 clean innings, for those of you keeping score at home. Sure, he has yet to give up a homer and his BABIP is .225, but Francisco also has a 4.0 K/BB ratio.

Kerry Wood, Indians

Wood racked up two saves in 3 appearances this week, though the first save chance was turbulent (3 walks against the Royals on the 20th). With a .358 BABIP and 2.25 HR/9, Wood hasn’t had many bounces go his way. Still, he’ll need to hit his spots with more regularity (5.63 BB/9), lest he set a bad example for the rest of Cleveland’s savage bullpen.

In Control

Scott Downs, Blue Jays

Downs tossed just one inning this week (3 hits, 2 R against the O’s on the 26th), as the Jays suddenly dive back toward earth, poised to roost in their customary fourth-place spot. With B. J. Ryan still failing to crack 89-90 MPH on the radar gun, Downs’ ninth-inning gig looks safe. With a 23/2 K/BB, the low-profile lefty has earned his keep.

Brian Fuentes, Angels

Fuentes racked up back-to-back saves against the Mariners and Dodgers on the 21st and 22nd, then served up a run against LA on the 24th in a non-save situation. His 4.32 ERA looks sort of inflated, but a 3.10 FIP suggests that Fuentes should enjoy better days from here on out.

Fernando Rodney, Tigers

Watch out for: Ryan Perry, Joel Zumaya

After converting save chances on the 20th and 21st against Texas, Rodney has lounged without around without getting into a ballgame. Normally a high-octane hurler lacking fine touch, Rodney is both punching out fewer hitters (6.5 K/9) and surrendering fewer free passes (2.5 BB/9). The net effect, should it stick, is positive: Rodney’s 3.27 FIP is the lowest of his career. Some of that is due to a 0.5 HR/9 mark, but he’s also generating grounders (51 GB%) at his highest rate since 2006.

Juan Cruz, Royals(Joakim Soria on the DL with shoulder soreness)

Cruz finally fell off the tight rope this week, as his 13/12 K/BB ratio caught up with him in a big way: 4 runs in 1/3 of an inning versus the Indians on the 21st. Soria, meanwhile, is making progress toward a much-anticipated return. He is expected to start a rehab assignment today.

Brad Ziegler, Athletics

Watch out for: Andrew Bailey

Ziegler took a loss against the Rays on the 21st, then recovered to toss two scoreless frames on the 23rd and 24th against Arizona (no saves. Darn.) Brad hasn’t received much support from his teammates, with a whopping .376 BABIP. Orlando Cabrera (-6.6 UZR/150) hasn’t contributed on either side of the ball thus far, and Jason Giambi (-29.3 UZR/150) has shown about as much range as a mastodon in a tar pit.

George Sherrill, Orioles

Sherrill had a superb week at the office, earning 3 saves and tossing four clean innings. He struck out 7 batters in the process, without issuing a single walk. His FIP is down to 4.08 for the season, and Sherrill appears to have a firmer grasp on his job for the time being, considering Chris Ray’s acts of arsonry.

Watch Your Back

David Aardsma (Brandon Morrow is in time out for the moment)

Would you believe that Aardsma ranks second among all relievers in WPA, at +2.20? It’s true: the well-traveled flame-thrower takes a back seat only to Texas’ Francisco. While Aardsma may rank 2nd in the category and first alphabetically, he continues to tempt fate with 13 walks in 21.2 innings. The 1.25 ERA looks great, but a .212 BABIP and a 93% strand rate suggest that anyone expecting sustained dominance will be disappointed.

In other M’s news, Morrow is attempting to work his way out of reliever purgatory. He threw four scoreless frames in two appearances this week, though his control is still Aardsma-like (2 walks against the A’s on the 25th). Just 43.9% of Morrow’s pitches have crossed home plate.

Jason Isringhausen/Dan Wheeler/J.P. Howell(?)

With Percival possibly headed for retirement rather than rehabbing his latest ailment (shoulder tendinitis), the Rays will pick and choose from a number of different options, including the recently-activated Isringhausen. Izzy tossed 3 spotless innings to start his abbreviated season, but he blew his first save chance against the Indians on the 25th (2 R, 3 BB’s).