Sell high: Josh Willingham, Target Field

Last off-season, the Twins correctly allowed Michael Cuddyer to leave via free agency, and signed outfielder Josh Willingham to take his place. Willingham was signed for $21MM over 3 years while Cuddyer signed with Colorado for $30MM over 3 years.

Willingham didn’t disappoint in his first season as a Twin. He hit .260/.366/.524, adding 35 home runs in 145 games. It was the best season of Willingham’s career, but at 33-years-old, it seems unlikely he’ll repeat his 2012 season next year.

A career .261/.362/.483 hitter, Willingham has been a solid offensive player for most of his career. A spike in his slugging percentage at such a late age is pretty rare, which is why the Twins should not expect Willingham to hit as well next season as he did this year. Willingham’s offensive boost, believe it or not, came from playing more games at Target Field. His home/road splits in 2012 were pretty extreme. Willingham hit a ridiculous and likely unsustainable .293/.407/.610 at Target Field in 2012, compared to just .230/.326/.444 on the road. Why did his numbers spike so much at Target Field? I’m glad you asked. In 2011, Willingham played in Oakland where according to ESPN’s park factor stat, the A’s scored .947 runs, or about 94% of the runs scored in a neutral park. (Target Field ranked just below Oakland, .944 to .947 last season) In 2012, however, Target Field became much more of a hitter’s ballpark. Target Field was the 10th most hitter friendly ballpark in baseball in 2012, after ranking 10th last in 2011. The Twins scored 1.04 runs, or 104% of what would’ve been scored in a neutral park.

The problem with Willingham’s breakout being tied to Target Field becoming a much more hitter friendly park is that there simply isn’t enough data yet to know what kind of park Target Field truly is. A look at the numbers since Target Field opened gives us a grand total of 3 years of information. In a league that has kept data for over a century, 3 years is far too small of a number to get a true reading on the park. Park Factor, by year:

2010 – .962 (96% of the runs scored in a neutral park)
2011 – .944
2012 – 1.044

Clearly, the numbers don’t paint really any kind of picture. It’s been random the first 3 years. However, if Target Field plays like a pitchers park next season, as it has for 2/3 of Target Field’s existence, Willingham could see a considerable dip in his power numbers, as suggested. Read more…

Fantasy Baseball: Week 17 waiver wire pickups

For those of you fighting for position in your leagues, you still have seven weeks left in the Fantasy Baseball regular season with which to do so. It is important to ensure that you make all the moves and/or trades you can in order to assure yourself a playoff spot in your leagues, otherwise you would have wasted an entire season fruitlessly maintaining your team (s). Here are this week’s waiver wire pickups, all widely available, for you to consider:

Marco Estrada-SP,RP-Brewers- Now a permanent part of the Brewers depth chart, Estrada has started nine games so far this season and like most things in fantasy, there is good news and bad. The good news is that the right-hander can help you in two of the remaining four Pitching categories (we’re taking away the saves category as he isn’t a closer); strike outs and WHIP. In his 9 games Estrada had 59 K’s and only 7 BBs while posting a barely visible 1.04 WHIP. The bad news is that the Brewers have given the former Washington National almost no run support which would account for his 0-4 record. In those four loses his team scored 1 run, 3 runs, 1 run, and 3 runs and it’s hard to post victories while your team is averaging 2 runs a game in your loses. Take a flier on Estrada and if you’re in need of K’s, grab him as he’s owned in just 10% of leagues.

Jared Burton/Glen Perkins-RP-Twins- What did manager Ron Gardenhire do when his ace closer Matt Capps was shut down with rotator cuff strain? Yep! He went to Jared! Well, not exclusively…The closing duties are shared between Burton and Glen Perkins. Together they have saved 7 of 8 games while Burton, since the possibility of save opportunities arose, is 1-0 with three saves 0.00 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP and 7 K’s in 10.2 innings pitched. Perkins has done equally as well garnering 5 saves and 1 BS over the same period. they are both widely available as both of these closers are owned only in about 15% of leagues. If you’re desperate for saves and are in deeper leagues, run to the waiver wire and pick one up! (Note: Perkins has gotten more save opps.)

Twins’ acquire Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos in review

Matt CappsTwo seasons ago, Joe Nathan went down in Spring Training and the Twins were forced to find a closer from within their organization. They chose Jon Rauch, and from opening day until July 30, Rauch was 21/25 on save attempts with a 3.05 ERA. Now, Rauch didn’t fit the closer mold, as he no longer had elite stuff, but he was clearly getting the job done. However, since the Twins organization has long valued scouting over stats it wasn’t surprising to find out that they were looking for closer help at the deadline.

*In recent years the Twins have began hiring front office executives with advanced stats backgrounds, which is a good thing. No matter how much people want to insist they can see things stats don’t show, the truth is stats are far more accurate than the human eye. It’s not surprising that the Twins were one of the last teams to join the advanced stats craze, and they’re one of the league’s worst teams at the moment. You simply can’t evaluate players as well without advanced stats.

Unfortunately, the Twins decided on Nationals closer Matt Capps to replace Jon Rauch. On July 30, the Twins announced that they had traded one of their top prospects, major league ready catcher Wilson Ramos, along with a minor league reliever, for Matt Capps. The early reaction from even common Twins fans wasn’t a good one, and that instant reaction was backed up by local and national baseball analysts. What were the Twins doing? Read more here…

Twins Notes: DeVries, Mauer, etc

– After thankfully designating Jason Marquis for assignment, the Twins decided to promote formerly undrafted Cole DeVries from AAA. DeVries attended the University of Minnesota and Eden Prairie High School before that, so he’s a local kid. As Aaron Gleeman noted, DeVries is unlikely to have any kind of sustained success in the big leagues, but just getting to the show is a huge accomplishment and I would imagine today will be the most exciting day of his life.

– Speaking of Marquis, he allowed 32 runs in 34 innings while in the Twins rotation. Clayton Kershaw, Brandon Beachy and Johnny Cueto have allowed 38 runs COMBINED in 182 innings pitched. Marquis should give his agent half of his $3MM salary, because he fleeced the Twins.

What do the Twins do with Denard Span

Denard SpanWhen the Minnesota Twins used the 20th overall pick of the 2002 MLB draft on Denard Span, a lot of the draft analysts were surprised and felt the Twins had reached for him. For years, that analysis seemed to be spot on as Span continued to struggle offensively in the minors. Even the Twins had ultimately given up on him becoming an everyday player in 2007, when they decided they needed to get a center fielder back in any Johan Santana trade (good thing they chose Carlos Gomez).

After injuries forced the Twins to simply give Span a shot at the major league level, he surprised everyone by hitting .294/.387/.432 in 93 games, with his plate discipline improving substantially at the big league level. In 2009 he quieted any “fluke” talk by hitting .311/.392/.415 in 145 games, and it appeared the Twins had found their lead-off hitter for years to come. The Twins were impressed and decided to lock Span up long-term, and he’s making $3MM this year, $4.75MM next season and $6MM in 2014, with a $9MM team option for 2015. That’s a very team friendly deal for the kind of outfielder Span was his first two seasons in the majors.  Read more here…



Joe Mauer should move to third

Joe MauerFor years, fans and media alike have argued whether the Twins would benefit more by moving “injury-prone” Joe Mauer to a less taxing position than catcher. For years, I’ve been arguing that Mauer is most valuable as a catcher, by a wide-margin, and for the team to get fair value from his enormous contract they need him to catch as long as possible. While all of that remains true, the fact is the Twins don’t have a short-term or long-term solution at third base. Prospect Miguel Sano is killing the ball for Beloit as one of the league’s youngest players, but as he continues to fill out there’s no guarantee he’ll remain at third base long-term. Read more here…