Greetings from sunny Target Field, where the Minnesota Twins (10-29) welcome the Toronto Blue Jays (19-23) for the first of a four-game set that’ll span over the weekend.
The scene at the stadium and around the team isn’t unlike the song “Sunshine” by Atmosphere, a local hip hop duo. In fact the Twins used the song in a commercial filmed in downtown Minneapolis around the time of TwinsFest, and the message of the song isn’t far from where the Twins find themselves presently.
The lead singer throws down a couple verses about coming off a rough night. So rough, that is, that he’s not even sure he can keep down the morning coffee made for him. But when he heads outside, he trips and falls, and suddenly realizes the scene around him. The weather is perfect, the birds are singing and life (still) isn’t so bad.
Things aren’t perfect, but the day can still be salvaged. I suspect that’s the message coming out of the manager’s office today.
The roster move that was publicized after Wednesday’s game became finalized Thursday, as the Twins sent struggling left fielder Eddie Rosario to Triple-A Rochester and purchased the contract of outfielder Robbie Grossman. Grossman’s arrival puts the 40-man roster at 40.
Rosario was struggling in pretty much every facet of the game, and all of those issues came to a head in Wednesday’s game against the Tigers. He’s struggled with multiple aspects of fielding — including when and where to throw — and that’s before considering his offensive approach, which was similar to last year but exploited mercilessly by opposing pitchers.
When Rosario succeeded in 2015, he did so by swinging at everything — as evidenced by his .267/.289/.459 line — and that was again the case this season. Even in terms of results, Rosario struck out 25.6 percent of the time and walked just 2.5 percent. Last year, those figures were 24.9 percent and 3.2 percent — so there’s hardly a disparity. Digging deeper, Rosario’s chase rate was 49.6 percent this year — swings at pitches outside of the zone — and 47.2 percent a season ago.
That’s a moderate difference exacerbated by the fact it was high to begin with. More concerning was his contact rate, both inside the strike zone (a drop from 84.3 percent to 71.3 percent) and overall (almost a 7 percent drop from last year to this year). It adds up to a player who had a swinging strike rate of 14.5 percent a season ago to one with a 19.6 percent rate this year.
Here’s some context: the best pitcher on the planet is Clayton Kershaw, who is getting swinging strikes 15.9 percent of the time. So Rosario was nearly 4 percent above that overall. The American League average for a hitter this year is exactly 10 percent — he was double that. For even further context, even Rosario’s good season last year carried a swinging strike rate that is roughly equivalent to what Noah Syndergaard does on a daily basis (14.7 percent, second in MLB).
In Rosario’s place is Grossman, and it’ll be interesting to see how playing time is divided between him, Oswaldo Arcia and Danny Santana. Grossman — who was just signed with the organization on Tuesday after opting out of his Triple-A contract with the Indians on Sunday — is not an adept center fielder, but has played primarily there so far this season, as 20 of his 31 appearances this season have come in that position with another 10 in left. Grossman is a career .240/.327.341 hitter at the big league level across parts of three seasons (764 plate appearances) with the Astros. He’s got good on-base skills but has shown virtually no power. It is however perhaps worth noting that he’s already hit six home runs in Triple-A this season in just 35 games.
Grossman is perhaps best known for spurning the Astros’ desires to sign him to a long-term deal very, very early in his career. According to MLBTradeRumors.com, Grossman spurned a reported offer of $13.5 million over six years with a pair of club options attached in 2014. He can get on base a little, run a little and the team owns his rights for up to five seasons, so he’s going to get a look here before the Twins decide to take a longer look at Max Kepler, who has been playing much better with Rochester recently (.349/.440/.512 in his last 11 games).
Here’s how the Twins line up today:
Starting for the Twins is Ervin Santana, whose season numbers are acceptable, if not bordering on solid. He’s striking out 8.3 batters per nine innings, not allowing many home runs and carrying an ERA of 3.38 through six starts. He’s been victimized by bad defense — not only by the eye test but also the .337 BABIP against — and issuing more walks than he really ought to (3.7 per nine innings). Santana’s velocity is right in line with career norms, and he’s throwing stuff at exactly the same rate he did last year. He’s also inducing more grounders (43.8 percent) than he has since the one year he spent with the Royals.
Under 30 innings can’t tell us much, but so far Santana’s slider has been very good, with a 17.3 percent whiff rate that is virtually identical to what he did last year (17.2 percent). The changeup has been a heavy groundball pitch, but has also been crushed for three doubles. That’s probably why he doesn’t use it too much. Overall, he’s been about as good as expected.
Opposing Santana is Marco Estrada, whom the Twins are familiar with mostly from facing the Brewers each season. Up to this point, Estrada has been an extreme fly ball pitcher, which made landing in the AL East an odd fit but he’s made it work so far. He works in the low 80s but gets plenty of strikeouts thanks to a fantastic changeup with plenty of swing-and-miss in it (21.6 percent).
He’s struggled with his curveball a bit this year, but his fastball isn’t as hittable (.218/.317/.418) as you’d expect at that velocity. He’ll give you a good competitive effort and at 32 years old he’s pretty much who he is at this point: a solid mid-rotation guy.
Notes and Quotes
- The Twins are eighth in MLB in stolen bases (26) at a success rate of 78.8 percent. Over the last 14 days, they’ve stolen nine bases and been caught just once.
- The Twins have the second-fewest groundball double plays in MLB at 17. Only the Rays (15) have fewer.
- The offense is third in baseball with a 22.2 percent line drive rate.
- Only three teams are seeing more fastballs than the Twins at 60 percent (Phillies, Brewers and Giants).
- Only the Brewers are swinging at fewer pitches in the strike zone than the Twins (62.7 percent). That doesn’t mean they’re swinging at pitches out of the zone either; the Twins have the sixth-lowest swing rate overall (44.2 percent). They’re being pretty selective.
- Only two teams are making less contact on pitches in the zone (83.6 percent) than the Twins — the Astros and Rays. So the Twins just aren’t doing enough damage within the strike zone.
- Incidentally, the Twins aren’t that far off the league average swinging strike rate of 10 percent. They’re at 10.3 percent as an offense.
- Manager Paul Molitor on the Rosario play at third base that preceded his removal from the game on Wednesday: “As a baseball play, it shouldn’t be hard to recognize the circumstances surrounding it. Why would we be better off if he was on third there than second? There’s a small chance of a wild pitch or an error or things like that. But we’re still going to be trailing by three even if he scores. If (Justin) Verlander would have seen him a split-second sooner or someone would have yelled just a little bit faster, and then you make the unwritten rule “third out at third base” in the seventh inning of a game where you trail by four runs. It was one of those things trying to do something that seemed right at the time, but you can not possibly justify it in my mind.”
- Molitor on Rosario’s post-demotion attitude: “He’s going to have to get to work fast. We’ve got Buxton, Kepler and Walker down there (NOTE: He’s in center field and batting sixth in tonight’s Rochester lineup). It’s not like you go down there and just assume you’ll string together some at-bats and get him going. Terry (Ryan) has always said when you go down there you still have to earn. Just because you were here doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed you’ll go down there and be an every day player. I think he was maybe taken a little bit aback (by the demotion), which was OK. In talking to him, you try to explain some of your reasons. You try to praise, then you try to critique and then you try to encourage. We’ll see how he responds.”