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Entries in Minnesota Twins (25)

Friday
Feb242012

Morneau Worried About Baseball Future

Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau's career reached its apex during the first half of the 2010 season, as the Canadian with the killer uppercut swing put up a .345 average, a .437 on-base percentage and a .618 slugging percentage through early July. The slugging came to an abrupt halt, however, after he suffered a concussion sliding into second base on July 7.

Since then, Morneau has played in just 69 games while dealing with post-concussion symptoms, surgery for a herniated disc in his neck and a trio of procedures for a cyst in his knee, bone spurs in his foot a left wrist tendon injury. His line over that time? .227/.285/.333. Now, the Minnesota Star Tribune's Jim Souhan notes, Morneau is pondering his future:

"Well, I don’t think there will be a career if it’s something I’m dealing with,’’ he said. "That’s the reality of the whole thing. I’m obviously not going to continue to mess around with this if it continues to be a problem. There comes a point where you can only torture yourself for so long."

Before his concussion woes, Morneau's slugging hot spot in 2010 was practically the entire strike zone. Unless pitchers caught the outside corner, they were toast. Check out his in-play slugging percentage by pitch location that year:

Morneau's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2010

In 2011, though? He only clubbed the occasional low pitch, or cookies that caught the middle of the plate:

Morneau's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2011

Morneau hit his fly balls an average of 290 feet in 2010. That's comparable to big-boned mashers like David Ortiz. But his fly ball distance plummeted to just 243 feet this past year. That's about the same  distance as banjo hitter Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and 10 feet less than that of Ben Revere.

His plate discipline was affected, too. Morneau's rate of chasing pitches out of the zone increased from 30% in 2010 to 34%, with more swings on low-and-away and high-and-away pitches in particular:

Morneau's swing rate by pitch location, 2010 Morneau's swing rate by pitch location, 2011

Without either of the M&M Boys healthy last year, the Twins brought up the rear in run-scoring among American League clubs. Morneau still has two years and $28 million left on the extension he signed back in 2008 and the club's biggest offseason bat added to the lineup was Josh Willingham, so Minnesota desperately needs their now-30-year-old first baseman to start slugging again.

Tuesday
Jan172012

Zoom Zoom to Minnesota

The Minnesota Twins, synonymous with low-velocity, control-and-command pitchers, took a flyer on Monday on a reliever whose approach couldn't be more diametrically opposed to that organizational philosophy. The Twins signed Joel Zumaya to a one-year, $800,000 deal with another $900K in possible incentives.

Any conversation about the now-27-year-old righty starts with radar gun readings and surgical scars. Last we saw Zumaya, he unleashed a 99 mph fastball to Delmon Young at Target Field on June 28, 2010. Zumaya doubled over in pain, shook his arm and then lay prostrate in the infield grass, having fractured his elbow. That was just the latest injury in a Brothers Karamazov-sized medical file that also includes a pair of shoulder surgeries and a ruptured tendon in his middle finger.

Zumaya threw for upwards of 20 teams in December and reportedly reached the mid-90s with his blessed-yet-cursed fastball. Yet despite his ethereal fastball velocity and the oohs and aahs that come along with triple-digit readings, Zumaya has never been anyone's idea of a relief ace. In 209.2 innings pitched dating back to 2006, he has a quality K rate (23.1 percent of batters faced, compared to 18-20% for relievers over that time frame) but also an inflated walk rate (12.5%, versus the 9-10% average).

However, Zoom Zoom was starting to look more pitcher than thrower in 2010 before his elbow went kaboom. His percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone spiked to well above the big league average for relievers:

YearZone Pct.League Avg.
2008 44.4 48.2
2009 49.5 48.1
2010 52.2 47.8

 

Zumaya's strikeout rate suffered slightly with more in-zone pitches (21.8 K%), but he more than made up for it with a career-low 7.1% walk rate. He missed to the arm side frequently in 2008-2009...

Zumaya's pitch location, 2008-2009

But he decided to throw right down the pike more often in 2010, daring hitters to time his heat...

Zumaya's pitch location, 2010

It was just 38 innings, of course, and there's no telling how Zumaya controls his pitches after surgery to fix a fractured bone at the tip of his elbow in July of 2010 and then a follow-up procedure in May of 2011 to replace a screw in his elbow. The cost to the Twins is minimal, though, and any team that considers Matt Capps as its closer can use a fistful of hard-throwing lottery tickets like Zumaya.

Friday
Dec162011

Josh Willingham introduced in Minnesota

The Minnesota Twins officially introduced Josh Willingham as their new right fielder today.  Willingham will provided much needed pop in the Twin lineup, particularly now that Michael Cuddyer signed with Colorado.

Here's a look at Willingham's in play slugging percentage heat map over the last three years:

Josh Willingham since 2009

Willingham is a dead pull hitter.  As such, he is susceptible to outside pitches.

Josh Willingham vs. Outside Pitches, 2009-2011

Over the last three years, Willingham has hit just .204 on outside pitches, with a .311 SLG. However, on pitches middle-in he's hit .292 with a .588 SLG, for a .412 wOBA since 2009, putting him in the top 3% of the league. Take the good with the bad, Twins fans.