Yankeemetrics: Bird goes boom, sweep Twins (Aug. 17-19)

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Thank you, NunEEEEEE
In what might turn out to be one of the wildest and most bizarre games of this 2015 season, the Yankees walked off with a 8-7 win over the Twins on Monday night.

Brian McCann put the Yankees on the board first with a three-run homer in the opening frame, and then after the Twins rallied with four runs of their own, he put the home team back on top again with a two-run single in the third. McCann finished with five RBIs, becoming the first Yankee catcher to drive in at least five runs in a game against the Twins franchise since Yogi Berra on April 17, 1956 (when they were known as the Washington Senators).

Because of Bryan Mitchell’s scary injury in the second inning, the Yankees were forced to use a parade of relievers to finish the game, with none pitching more than 2 1/3 innings. This is the only time in the last 100 seasons that the Yankees have won a game using at least seven pitchers, who each got no more than seven outs.

The Yankees won the game when Eduardo Nunez muffed a grounder with the bases loaded and threw to first base anyways for the out, thereby allowing Brendan Ryan to trot home from third for the victory. Oh Nuneeeee, the gift that keeps on giving for Yankee fans.

Per the play-by-play data at Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index, this is the first time the Yankees won on a walk-off RBI ground out (that’s how it was scored) since May 16, 1985 against the Rangers. That victory 30 years ago was courtesy of a bases-loaded ground out by Dave Winfield that scored pinch runner Rickey Henderson from third base.

#BAEROD
“Home runs are great, grand slams are awesome.” – Mr. Alexander Enmanuel Rodriguez

Another night, another comeback win for these 2015 Yankees. This time the hero was a slumping A-Rod (3-for-37 in his previous nine games), who drilled a home run with the bases loaded in the seventh inning to turn a 4-1 deficit into a 5-4 lead and an eventual win over the Twins on Tuesday night.

It was his 25th career grand slam, extending his major-league record, and the fourth time A-Rod has hit a grand slam in the seventh inning or later to give the Yankees a lead. In the last 75 seasons, no other Yankees has hit more than two homers like that with the bases loaded.

The four-run homer was also A-Rod’s 25th home run of the season, the 15th time in his career he’s reached that mark. The only other players in major-league history with at least 15 25-homer seasons are Babe Ruth, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.

The win guaranteed a series victory for the Yankees, their first in the Bronx against the Twins since 2011. In that span, the Yankees had won at least one home series against every other AL team.

Bird droppings
The Yankees comeback train kept on chugging along on Wednesday afternoon as the team rallied for yet another win over the Twins, sweeping them at home for the first time since May 2009.

Greg Bird had himself a day, hitting his first two career homers and driving in all four of the Yankee runs. He’s the third Yankee in the last 100 years with a multi-homer game within his first five career games, joining Jesus Montero (2011) and the immortal Shelley Duncan (2007).

In that span, he’s also the third Yankee first baseman with two or more homers in a game at the age of 22 or younger. The others you might have heard of: Joe Pepitone (1962, 1963) and Lou Gehrig (1925).

Since RBI became an official stat in 1920, Bird is just the second major-leaguer to have at least four RBI in a game this early into his career (first five games), and drive in all of his team’s runs. The other was Vada Pinson, who tallied four RBI in his second career game, a 4-1 win for the Reds over the Pirates on April 18, 1958.

Bird’s sixth inning two-run blast was the game-winner, and put him in some more good company, too. The only other Yankee first baseman in the last 40 seasons with a go-ahead homer in the sixth inning or later against the Twins are Tino Martinez (1996) and Don Mattingly (1993, 1985).

8/17 to 8/19 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Home sweet home. The Yankees start a three-game series against the Twins tonight, and they will play their next ten and 20 of their next 26 (!) games at home in Yankee Stadium. They’ve been much better at home (32-21, +48 run differential) than on the road (32-31, +15) this season, so this 20-in-26 stretch is a golden opportunity to increase the lead in the AL East. The Yankees took two of three from the Twins in Target Field late last month, thanks in part to Alex Rodriguez‘s three home-run game.

What Have The Twins Done Lately?

The Twins are going down in flames. They had a nice little start to the season but they have lost 18 of their last 27 games, getting outscored 157-105 in the process. They are who we thought they were, as Dennis Green once said. Minnesota has fallen out of wildcard position (they’re 1.5 games back) and are 59-58 with a -24 run differential overall in 2015. Don’t overlook this series though. The AL East title is in doubt and the Twins are one of about six teams vying for a wildcard. This series as some postseason implications.

Offense & Defense

With an average of 4.22 runs per game and a team 90 wRC+, the Twins are a below-average offensive club. (They’re actually slightly better than average in terms of runs per game, but that wRC+ …. yikes.) That doesn’t mean they don’t have any individually dangerous hitters, of course. Manager Paul Molitor’s team is healthy on the position player side. No one on the DL or even day-to-day.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Right now, Minnesota’s most dangerous hitter is DH Miguel Sano (156 wRC+ in limited time), who is absolutely terrifying at the plate. I’ll be happy if he hits only one homer in the three-game series. 2B Brian Dozier (120 wRC+) is quite dangerous and both OF Aaron Hicks (105 wRC+), OF Eddie Rosario (104 wRC+), and 3B Trevor Plouffe (107 wRC+) are strong supporting players. 1B Joe Mauer (93 wRC+) and OF Torii Hunter (94 wRC+) are both on the downside of their careers.

C Kurt Suzuki (60 wRC+) is the everyday catcher and lately UTIL Eduardo Escobar (78 wRC+) and former Yankees UTIL Eduardo Nunez (92 wRC+) have been splitting time at short. C Chris Herrmann (52 wRC+) is the backup catcher and OF Shane Robinson (78 wRC+) is the other bench player. Only a three-man bench for the Twinkies these days.

The defensive stats are not fans of the Twins. Hicks and Dozier are excellent, and Rosario is fine in left, but Hunter and Plouffe are not the rangiest of fellows. Mauer’s fine around the bag at first but also doesn’t offer much range. Nunez at short? We’ve seen that movie before. (Escobar’s fine there.) Suzuki is solid behind the plate.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (7pm ET): RHP Bryan Mitchell (No vs. MIN) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (vs. NYY)
The 27-year-old Gibson is finally starting to settle in as a solid big league starter, pitching to a 3.75 ERA (4.11 FIP) in 23 starts and 141.2 innings this year. I thought he was going to be star coming out of Mizzou back in 2009 (22nd overall pick), so that shows what I know. Gibson has a below-average strikeout rate (17.3%), but both his walk (7.5%) and homer (0.95 HR/9) rates are good, plus he gets a ton of ground balls (52.8%). Righties (.334 wOBA) have had more success against him than lefties (.293 wOBA), which is the opposite of what happened last year. Also, it’s worth noting Gibson has been much more successful at home in spacious Target Field (3.12 ERA and 4.15 FIP) than on the road (4.57 ERA and 4.06 FIP) this year. He works in the low-90s with two and four-seam fastballs and also throws mid-80s sliders and changeups. Gibson has used all four pitches at least 18% of the time this season. The Yankees saw Gibson last month and scored six runs in 5.1 innings.

As for the Yankees, tonight was supposed to be CC Sabathia‘s turn, but last night various Twins beat reporters said Minnesota had been informed Bryan Mitchell will start instead. Sure enough, Brian Cashman confirmed this morning Mitchell will start tonight. Sabathia will start tomorrow. The Yankees had been talking about using a spot sixth starter at some point during this stretch of 16 games in 16 days to give the rest of the rotation extra rest, and tonight’s the night.

Tuesday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (vs. NYY)
Big Pelf has a 3.70 ERA (3.95 FIP) in 22 starts and 129 innings this year, though this has really been a tale of two seasons for the ex-Met. He had a 2.28 ERA (3.84 FIP) in his first eleven starts and has a 5.23 ERA (4.06 FIP) in the eleven starts since. Pelfrey has the second lowest strikeout rate among qualified starters at 11.3% — Jeremy Guthrie has the lowest at 11.1% — so he instead relies on limiting walks (6.9%), getting grounders (53.7%), and keeping the ball in the park (0.49 HR/9). Lefties (.340 wOBA) have hit him a bit harder than righties (.310 wOBA). The 31-year-old Pelfrey lives off his low-to-mid-90s sinker but will also throw some straight low-to-mid-90s four-seamers to keep hitters honest. Low-80s splitters and sliders are his two offspeed pitches. The Yankees did not face Pelfrey when they visited Minnesota a few weeks ago.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Wednesday (1pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Ervin Santana (vs. NYY)
Santana, 32, returned a few weeks ago after serving an 80-game performance-enhancing drug suspension to start the season. Not the best way to kick off a four-year contract, eh? Santana has a 5.66 ERA (5.59 FIP) in eight starts and 47.2 innings since coming back and he has been incredibly homer prone (1.70 HR/9). His walk rate (8.4%) is in line with his career norms but his strikeout (13.0%) and grounder (37.6%) rates are way down. Left-handed batters (.358 wOBA) have had more success against Santana than righties (.336 wOBA) this year. A low-to-mid-90s four-seam fastball is his primary weapon and he’ll also throw a ton of mid-80s sliders each time out. Santana has thrown his slider at least 33% of the time every year since PitchFX was fully put in place in 2008. He has started throwing his mid-80s changeup a bit more often in recent years but it is still a distant third pitch. Santana shows you can carve out a pretty long career as a starter as a two-pitch pitcher, as long as one pitch is mid-90s heat and the other is a wipeout slider. The Yankees did not see Santana the last time these teams played.

Bullpen Status
Molitor is stuck with one of the league’s worst bullpens (4.08 ERA/4.16 FIP) despite having a shutdown closer in LHP Glen Perkins (2.49/3.39). RHP Casey Fien (3.89/3.73) has been his primary setup man alongside trade deadline pickup RHP Kevin Jepsen (2.79/4.06). LHP Brian Duensing (4.54/4.06) is the main matchup southpaw.

RHP A.J. Achter (10.13/6.49 in very limited time), RHP Trevor May (4.15/3.26), LHP Ryan O’Rourke (3.38/3.19 in limited time), and Rule 5 Draft pick RHP J.R. Graham (4.50/4.61) fill out the rest of the bullpen. Duensing, Fien, Jepsen, and Perkins all pitched yesterday. Check out the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen at our Bullpen Workload page, then head over to Twinkie Town and Aaron Gleeman’s site for updates on the Twins.

Yankeemetrics: All roads lead to Target Field (July 24-26)

#ClutchRod (AP Photo)
#ClutchRod (AP Photo)

NoWin-eda?
The Yankees’ winning formula has been to score early and often, and thrash their opponents with lots of homers. The Twins took a page out of the Yankees playbook on Friday night, however, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning and hitting four home runs in their 10-1 victory.

The nine-run blowout was the Yankees worst loss to the Twins since July 31, 1991 (12-3) and their worst defeat in Minnesota since April 5, 1989 (12-2). It was also the most home runs the Twins have hit against the Yankees in more than 20 years. On August 6, 1994, Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Pedro Munoz and Shane Mack each hit homers in the Twins 10-4 victory that day.

The Yankees made a lot of loud outs and got 10 hits in the game, but managed just a single run on a sac fly in the ninth inning. It was the first time they scored one or fewer runs despite having double-digit hits since July 10, 2010 vs. the Mariners. In that span, every other major-league team had done that at least once (and the Pirates have done it eight times!).

MVP-rod?
As magical as this season has been for the Yankees, there’s still been a couple holes in their resume, including a poor record away from the Bronx and a lack of big comebacks. Entering Saturday, the Yankees were 23-25 on the road and the largest deficit they’d overcome in a game was three runs.

They temporarily patched up both of those holes on Saturday night, scoring eight unanswered runs after trailing 5-0 in the third inning to beat the Twins at Target Field.

A-Rod wrote another chapter in his storybook season, hitting three homers, each one bringing the Yankees closer to an improbable victory, and capped off with his dramatic game-tying shot in the top of the ninth inning. Before this outburst, he had never even hit a single homer at Target Field; his 30 at-bats at the ballpark before his solo longball in the fourth inning were his most at any venue he hadn’t gone deep yet in his career.

At the age of 39 years and 363 days, not only did A-Rod become the oldest Yankee ever to hit three homers in a game, he also is the fifth-oldest in major-league history to do it. The only guys older than him were Stan Musial (41 years old), Jason Giambi (40), Reggie Jackson, (40) and Babe Ruth (40).

It was his fifth career three-home run game, one shy of the MLB record held by Johnny Mize and Sammy Sosa, and his third such game with the Yankees. The only other players in franchise history to hit at least three homers in a regular season game three-or-more times are Lou Gehrig (4) and Joe DiMaggio (3).

His third homer knotted the game at 5-5, his sixth game-tying homer in the ninth inning with the franchise. A-Rod and Yogi Berra are the only Yankees in the last 75 years to hit that many game-tying homers in the ninth frame.

Ace-valdi?
Breaking news: the Yankees won a road series! They beat the Twins 7-2 on Sunday to win their first series on the road since sweeping the Mariners in Seattle on June 1-3. If the Yankees were going to break out of their road slump, the most likely choice would have been here at Target Field. They are now 16-5 at the ballpark (which opened in 2010), the best record there by any American League team.

No Yankee starter is pitching better and more consistently than Nathan Eovaldi right now, who turned in his seventh strong outing in a row since getting shelled by the Marlins in mid-June. He’s got a 2.83 ERA in his last seven starts, easily the best among his rotation ‘mates in that span (since June 20). And he is now up to 11 starts this season allowing two runs or fewer, the most among Yankee pitchers.

Chase Headley drove in three of the Yankees’ seven runs with a solo homer in the fifth and a two-run single in the sixth. Before Headley, the last Yankee third baseman with at least three RBIs against the Twins in Minnesota was Robin Ventura on April 18, 2003. Since sitting out three games in the beginning of July with a calf injury, Headley is hitting .359 with 10 RBI in his last 11 games.

7/24 to 7/26 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This is a new era of Twins baseball. Longtime manager Ron Gardenhire was fired following last season and has been replaced by Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. I’m sure the Yankees are sad to see Gardenhire go. They were 76-28 (.731) against the Twinkies during the Gardenhire era (2002-14), including the postseason. Four of those Yankees losses came against peak Johan Santana from 2004-06. So yeah. The Gardenhire era was good to the Bombers.

What Have The Twins Done Lately?

The Twins are good! Though things haven’t gone well lately. They beat the Angels yesterday but lost four straight prior to that. They won seven of eight before that. Minnesota is 51-44 with a +7 run differential overall, leaving them 6.5 games behind the Royals in the AL Central. They are sitting in a wildcard spot, however. This is the first meeting of the season between the Yankees and Twins.

Offense & Defense

With an average of 4.17 runs per game and a team 91 wRC+, the Twins are a below average offensive team. That’s not surprising given Target Field, their spacious home ballpark, where this three-game series will be played. Minnesota is without superprospect OF Byron Buxton, who is on the DL with a thumb strain. He is not due back this series. That’s a shame, I would have liked to have seen him in action.

Anyway, Molitor’s offense is still headlined by the handsome 1B Joe Mauer (99 wRC+), who is more name value than actual production these days. Mauer still has the prettiest swing in baseball though. Look at this thing:

Flawless. No sweeter swing out there. With Mauer on the decline, Minnesota’s top hitter is 2B Brian Dozier (129 wRC+), who’s really good, not just Twins good. 3B Trevor Plouffe (112 wRC+) and OF Torii Hunter (103 wRC+) are Dozier’s supporting cast. DH Miguel Sano (156 wRC+ in very limited time) has enormous raw power I hope to not see this weekend. Good on the Twins for calling up their top prospects because they were the best options at positions of need.

The rest of Molitor’s regular lineup includes C Kurt Suzuki (60 wRC+), OF Eddie Rosario (90 wRC+), OF Aaron Hicks (93 wRC+), and SS Danny Santana (48 wRC+). Former Yankees farmhand C Eric Fryer (102 wRC+ in very limited time) and former Yankee UTIL Eduardo Nunez (112 wRC+) are both on the bench. Nunie is having himself a nice little year in a part-time role. Fryer came to the Yankees from the Brewers for Chase Wright (!) in February 2009 and was then flipped to the Pirates for Eric Hinske at the deadline that year. UTIL Eduardo Escobar (86 wRC+) and OF Shane Robinson (70 wRC+) are the other two bench players.

The Twins are slightly below average defensively overall despite having standout defenders up the middle — Suzuki, Dozier, Santana, and Hicks are all at least above-average in the field. The corners are pretty bad, particularly the range-challenged Hunter and Plouffe. Mauer doesn’t move too well these days after catching all those years. They’re good defensively at the important positions. Everywhere else … eh.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (8pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Phil Hughes (vs. NYY)
Philbert! St. Philip of Hughes has a 4.15 ERA (4.63 FIP) in 123.2 innings this year, so after his stellar breakout campaign a year ago, he’s gone right back to being the guy he was with the Yankees from 2010-13. His strikeout rate is way down (14.1%), he still isn’t getting any grounders (34.4%), and his walk rate is miniscule (2.3%). Following a one-year reprieve, Phil’s home run rate has shot back up into normal Phil Hughes territory (1.67 HR/9 in 2015 after 0.69 HR/9 in 2014). Righties (.354 wOBA) have been hitting him harder than lefties (.327 wOBA), which is the opposite of his career history. Hughes, 29, sits in the low-90s with his four-seamer and a touch below that with his cutter. He also throws a mid-70s curveball and very few mid-80s changeups. More than 80% of his pitches are fastballs. Hughes is fairly predictable.

Saturday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. MIN) vs. LHP Tommy Milone (vs. NYY)
Milone, 28, has pitched to a 3.38 ERA (4.71 FIP) in 69.1 innings this season. He’s given up a ton of fly balls (38.5% grounders) and homers (1.43 HR/9) with few strikeouts (16.8%) and walks (7.6%). Milone has gotten knocked around by righties (.363 wOBA) but has dominated lefties (.217 wOBA). Might be worth starting John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann tomorrow because of that platoon split. Sunday’s a day game after a night game, so McCann is likely to sit anyway. Might as well just start Murphy against Milone on Saturday and McCann on Sunday instead of vice versa. Anyway, Milone is a soft tosser, averaging 87.5 mph with his four-seam fastball this season. His two-seamer and cutter are a tick below that. Low-80s changeups and low-70s curveballs are Milone’s two offspeed offerings.

Gibson. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Gibson. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Sunday (2pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (vs. NYY)
Man, I absolutely loved Gibson back during the 2009 draft. I thought he would end up somewhere along the lines of what Matt Harvey is today. The Twins took Gibson with the 22nd overall pick, seven picks before the Yankees took Slade Heathcott. I was crushed. I hoped he would keep falling. Anyway, the 27-year-old Gibson has a 3.19 ERA (3.89 FIP) in 118.2 innings with a great ground ball rate (54.6%) and slightly lower than average strikeout (17.1%), walk (7.5%), and homer (0.83 HR/9) numbers. He has a reverse split this year (.318 vs. .285 wOBA in favor of righties), which is the opposite of the rest of his career to date. Gibson’s fastballs sit in the low-90s and he throws approximately two two-seamers for every one four-seamer. A mid-80s slider is his go-to breaking ball, and he’ll also throw plenty of mid-80s changeups per start. Gibson’s not the pitcher I thought he would be, but he is pretty good.

Bullpen Status
Believe it or not, the Twins have a below average bullpen (3.87 ERA/4.12 FIP). You’d think they’d have a solid relief crew given their record. Molitor does have a dominant closer in LHP Glen Perkins (1.37/2.23), so if they have a lead after eight, it’s close to an automatic win. RHP Blaine Boyer (2.81/4.32) has been setting up and LHP Brian Duensing (5.32/3.95) sees left-on-left matchup work.

RHP Casey Fien (4.30/4.50), RHP Trevor May (4.43/3.29), LHP Ryan O’Rourke (0.00/1.94 in very limited time), and Rule 5 Draft pick RHP J.R. Graham (3.53/4.63) round out the eight-man bullpen. Perkins pitched yesterday and May threw 53 pitches in two innings on Wednesday, otherwise the bullpen is fresh. Head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen. then head over to Twinkie Town and Aaron Gleeman’s site for the latest on the Twins.

A Haiku for the Rest of MLB [2015 Season Preview]

Does Donnie like Haikus? Of course. (Presswire)
Does Donnie like haikus? Of course. (Presswire)

Opening Day is now only three days away. We’ve spent the last four weeks previewing the Yankees and the upcoming season, and yesterday we broke down the rest of the AL East. Today we’re going to wrap up our 2015 Season Preview series with a quick preview of the other 25 teams in baseball. After all, the Yankees are going to have to try to beat those teams this season too.

If you’ve come here looking for a serious preview post, you’re not going to get it. It’s Friday afternoon, Opening Day is right around the corner, and this year’s preview series is over. Instead, we’re going to have some fun and preview those other 25 teams in Haiku form. I encourage you to tell me how much my haikus suck and to make some of your own — pro tip: use the Haiku Counter to make sure you have the right number of syllables — and leave ’em in the comments. Enjoy.

Atlanta Braves
Traded their best bats
For a whole bunch of pitchers
They know scoring’s down?

Arizona Diamondbacks
Is Nuno their ace?
The answer just might be yes
Payback for ’01!

Chicago Cubs
Bleachers aren’t ready?
No prob, Bryant won’t notice
He’s in Iowa

Chicago White Sox
D-Rob and Melky
Back together in ChiTown
Growing ugly beards

Cincinnati Reds
Good enough to win?
Nah, not in that division
Can we have Cueto?

Cleveland Indians
Brantley is awesome
Kluber is really great
World Series pick? Eh

Colorado Rockies
Troy’s still a Rockie
Kyle Kendrick, OD SP?
Wait for ski season

Detroit Tigers
Miggy, Price, V-Mart
Lots of stars and real big names
Bullpen still a mess

Houston Astros
I don’t understand
You won “process World Series?”
That doesn’t exist

Kansas City Royals
Pennant last season
Volquez is replacing Shields?
For real? Yeah, for real

Los Angeles Angels
They have that Trout guy
I wish the Yankees had him
It’s Teixeira’s fault!

Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw is the best
Donnie Baseball gets his ring?
If not, just blame Puig

Miami Marlins
Paid Giancarlo
They’re going for it again
When’s next fire sale?

Milwaukee Brewers
They all hate Ryan Braun
But not as much as A-Rod
This team is boring

Minnesota Twins
Phil’s still homer prone
Nunez’s helmet still falls off
Just like the old days

New York Mets
Take back New York, huh?
Orange and blue like the Knicks
But with fewer fans

Oakland Athletics
Ballpark is ugly
Beane traded everyone again
What’s a Stephen Vogt?

Philadelphia Phillies
Rebuild? Finally!
Cole will be traded real soon
Then skip to next year

Pittsburgh Pirates
Cervelli pumps fist
McCutchen cut his dreads
A World Series team?

St. Louis Cardinals
Contender again
Such a boringly good team
Gets boring haiku

San Diego Padres
Kemp, Upton, Myers, Shields
But what about Yangervis?
Solarte Partay!

San Francisco Giants
The World Series champs
But it’s an odd number year
So no repeat then

Seattle Mariners
You can have Robbie
You are still stuck with Jack Z.
Yankees win the trade

Texas Rangers
Could this be the year
That Elvis Andrus will hit?
Hah, made myself laugh

Washington Nationals
Awesome rotation!
Future Yankee Bryce Harper
Has nice ring to it

Scouting The Trade Market: Minnesota Twins

Willingham. (Tim Umphrey/Getty)
Willingham. (Tim Umphrey/Getty)

The non-waiver trade deadline is now one week and one day away, and we’ve got a pretty good idea of which teams will be sellers and which will be buyers. The Yankees, like or not, will be buying. Yesterday’s Chase Headley trade confirmed that. They’re 1.5 games out of a playoff spot in Derek Jeter‘s final season and selling just isn’t something they’ve done during the Steinbrenner era. Rotation help is a clear need, ditto an upgrade in right field. Possibly second base too, though they might be able to solve that internally.

At 47-53, the Twins have the ninth worst record in baseball, and GM Terry Ryan recently told Rhett Bollinger he is planning to listen to trade offers for his veteran players over the next eight days. “We’re in a tough spot right now and we’ve been in a tough spot for four years, so you have to listen. And that’s what we do,” said Ryan. Outside of Brian Dozier, hometown guys Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins, and probably the resurgent Phil Hughes, I’m not sure Minnesota has any untouchables.

I’ve been splitting these Scouting The Market posts up into position players and pitchers by team, but the Twins have an amazingly thin roster, so I’m going to lump all of their trade chips together into one post. Prying Dozier and his right-handed pop/above-average defense at second base loose would be an amazing get for the Yankees, but I just don’t see it. Here’s a look at the Twins players who are actually available and possible fits for the Yankees.

OF Josh Willingham
The 35-year-old Willingham has consistently been an above-average hitter since breaking into the league full-time in 2006 — his 117 wRC+ in 2007 was his lowest from 2006-12 — and his best season came in 2012, his first in Minnesota. He hit .260/.366/.524 (142 wRC+) with 35 homers that year, which was the first covered by his three-year contract worth $21M. In hindsight, the 2012-13 offseason was the perfect time to trade him. His value was never getting any higher.

Willingham dropped down to .208/.348/.368 (102 wRC+) with 14 homers in 471 plate appearances last season while missing a month and a half with cartilage damage in his left knee. This year he is sitting on a .212/.358/.412 (116 wRC+) batting line with nine homers in 215 plate appearances around a hairline fracture in his left wrist that sidelined him for almost two months. (He suffered the injury on a hit-by-pitch.) As the batted ball data at Baseball Heat Maps shows, the average distance of the balls Willingham has hit in the air is holding steady, which is encouraging:

Josh Willingham Batted Ball Distance

The Yankees have only gotten 16 homers out of their right-handed hitters this season and right-handed power is Willingham’s best tool. He might not ever hit 35 homers like he did two years ago again, but his .200 ISO is in line with his career average (.214). He’s actually hitting more balls in the air than ever before (29.1% grounders), which helps explain his career worst .250 BABIP. Fly balls are often easy outs. Willingham has always drawn a ton of walks (16.7% this year and 12.0% career) and, frankly, that’s something the Yankees need in addition to his righty pop. He isn’t going to hit for much average, but if healthy he’ll hit the ball out of the park and still get on base at a respectable clip.

Willingham has played left field exclusively the last five years, which is a problem. He has only 264.1 career innings in right and they all came way back in 2009. The Yankees would be asking him to play an unfamiliar position by sticking him in right. Willingham’s contract is a non-issue since he’s in the final season of his deal and similar rental outfielders like Ryan Ludwick and Shane Victorino have not cost much in recent years, so the left field/right field thing is the only problem. He’d be a fantastic addition to the lineup. It’s just a question of where he’d play.

Another member of Team Generic White Guys. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Another member of Team Generic White Guys. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

3B Trevor Plouffe
Plouffe, 28, made a name for himself by hitting 24 homers two years ago even though it came with a less than impressive .235/.301/.455 (105 wRC+) batting line. Leg and wrist problems limited him to 14 homers and a .254/.309/.392 (93 wRC+) line last year, though this season he’s rebounded to hit .243/.315/.413 (102 wRC+) with seven homers and an already career-high 29 doubles in 355 plate appearances. Plouffe did miss time with a ribcage/oblique problem last month.

Like Willingham, Plouffe’s calling card is his right-handed power. He owns a .170 ISO this year and a career .171 ISO, which is solidly above-average, though he has actually hit for more power at home in spacious Target Field (.187 ISO) than on the road (.153 ISO) over the years. The spray charts show Plouffe does the most damage when he pulls the ball to left, which fits well with Target Field but not Yankee Stadium. Teaching a guy to go the other way to hit for power is not something that is easy or can happen overnight.

The various defensive stats say Plouffe is a below-average defender but not a disaster at third base, though that position is no longer a problem with Headley on board. He also has experience at first base, second base, and in the two corner outfield spots, so there would be ways to get him into the lineup, plus he’d give the team third base protection next year. Plouffe is what he is, a low batting average third baseman with some power and just enough walks (7.5% career) to get on base three out of ten times. He’s making $2.35M this year, his first of four years of arbitration-eligibility as a Super Two, so there’s a good chance he’ll be a non-tender candidate soon. Mark Reynolds was traded for two Triple-A relievers at a similar point in his career, and he hit 44 homers the year before the trade, so yeah. The price shouldn’t be high.

RHP Kevin Correia and RHP Samuel Deduno
The Yankees need some innings, right? Well, these two can given them. I’m not saying they’ll be quality innings, but they’ll be innings. The 33-year-old Correia has a 4.76 ERA (4.35 FIP) in 20 starts and 113.1 innings this year, and over the last few seasons he’s been consistent 4.40-ish FIP guy who misses zero bats (4.29 K/9 and 10.8 K%) but limits walks (2.30 BB/9 and 5.8 BB%). His ground ball rate (41.2%) isn’t anything special either. Correia would be a pure rental (owed another $2M or so), but, in addition to not being very good, he doesn’t really fit what the Yankees look for in a pitcher, namely grounders and/or strikeouts.

Not Correia. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Not Correia. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Deduno, 31, has been a swingman for Minnesota this year, pitching to a 4.32 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 73 innings across eight starts and 13 relief appearances. Last season he managed a 3.83 ERA (4.04 FIP) in 108 innings as a full-time member of the rotation (for half the year). Unlike Correia, Deduno has some bat-missing ability (7.15 K/9 and 18.1 K%) and really excels at getting grounders (55.2%) thanks to his heavy upper-80s sinker. The pitch runs all over the place (4.07 BB/9 and 10.3 BB%) and he backs it up with a hard low-80s curveball. The Yankees just brought in Brandon McCarthy for his ground ball heavy ways and adding Deduno would be along the same lines, though he doesn’t offer the same name value. Both Deduno and (especially) Correia figure to come cheap. Deduno is still in his pre-arbitration years, by the way.

Miscellaneous Relievers
The Twins seem to have a knack for rostering relievers I’ve never heard of. Their primary setup men ahead of Perkins are righty Casey Fien (2.34 ERA and 3.23 FIP) and lefty Caleb Thielbar (2.81 ERA and 3.26 FIP), who bounced around waivers and signed out of an independent league, respectively. Lefty Brian Duensing (2.35 ERA and 3.90 FIP) has been around a while and been used in every role imaginable, but this year he’s settled in as a one-inning reliever. Not necessarily a matchup guy either. Veteran retread Matt Guerrier (3.86 ERA And 3.92 FIP) and long man Anthony Swarzak (4.34 ERA and 3.37 FIP) don’t excite anyone. Meh. I don’t think you could convince me any of these guys would be a real help going forward, but more pitching never hurt anyone.

* * *

Willingham is the best fit for the Yankees among players on the Twins roster who figure to actually be available, though acquiring him would mean someone would have to play out of position in right field. It would either be him or Brett Gardner. That’s not ideal. His right-handed power would be a huge help for the offense though. Plouffe is an expensive utility man who can hit the ball out of the part and, as always, the Twins really don’t have many interesting pitchers. They continue to shoot themselves in the foot with that “okay stuff, no strikeouts, pitch-to-contact” profile. I’d be all for a Willingham trade if I only knew how they’d get him into the lineup defensively.

7/3-7/6 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The homestand from hell is finally over and the Yankees are heading to a place that has been very kind to them over the years. The Bombers are 73-24 against the Twins during the Ron Gardenhire era, including 13-3 all-time at Target Field, where they will play their next four games. The Twins did take two of three in Yankee Stadium about a month ago.

What Have They Done Lately?
Manager Ron Gardenhire’s team just lost two of three to the Royals and they’ve dropped seven of their last nine and 23 of their last 38 games overall. At 38-45 with a -30 run differential, they’ve settled into last place in the AL Central.

Offense
The Twins average 4.17 runs per game despite a team 94 wRC+, so they’re below-average at the plate but about average in scoring runs. Timing is everything, I guess. The Yankees will not see 1B Joe Mauer (94 wRC+) this weekend — he was placed on the disabled list with an oblique strain yesterday. He’s having a disappointing year anyway. UTIL Danny Santana (129 wRC+) is out with a knee injury and isn’t expected to return this series.

No Mauer this weekend. (Presswire)
No Mauer this weekend. (Presswire)

With Mauer hurt, Gardenhire’s lineup revolves around 2B Brian Dozier (116 wRC+), OF Josh Willingham (137 wRC+), and 1B/DH Kendrys Morales (55 wRC+ in limited time). Morales, like Stephen Drew, has not yet gotten it going at the plate after sitting out the first two and a half months of the season. 3B Trevor Plouffe (100 wRC+) has been fine and C Kurt Suzuki (113 wRC+) has been good overall but not as good since taking over as the everyday catcher when C Josmil Pinto was sent down.

UTIL Eduardo Nunez (124 wRC+ in limited time) has been leading off lately. Get ready for a lot of “shoulda kept him!” talk, because we all know everyone felt the Yankees should have kept him and given him another chance back in Spring Training. OF Oswaldo Arcia (83 wRC+) put on an outfield arm clinic in Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago. 1B/OF Chris Colabello (82 wRC+), IF Eduardo Escobar (99 wRC+), OF Sam Fuld (69 wRC+), 1B/OF Chris Parmelee (111 wRC+ in limited time), and former Yankees farmhand C Eric Fryer (-9 wRC+ in very limited time) round out the active roster.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Phil Hughes (vs. NYY)
Hughes, 28, is going to be an All-Star in two weeks and not as the token Twin. He deserves to be there. Hughes has a 3.58 ERA (2.60 FIP) in 16 starts and 103 innings, mostly because he’s cut his homer rate all the way down to 0.61 HR/9 (5.5 HR/FB%). It’s not just the ballpark either — Hughes has actually allowed more dingers in Target Field (0.76 HR/9 and 6.3 HR/FB%) than on the road (0.49 HR/9 and 4.6 HR/FB%) this year. His strikeout (7.69 K/9 and 21.0 K%) and ground ball (36.9%) rates are a bit below-average, but he doesn’t walk anyone (0.87 BB/9 and 2.4 BB%). Hughes always threw a lot of strikes, but now he’s taken it to the extreme. Righties (.347 wOBA) have had more success against him than lefties (.245 wOBA) for whatever reason in 2014. Hughes brought back his upper-80s cutter this year, replacing that awful low-80s slider. He’ll throw a few mid-80s changeups and mid-70s curveballs per start, but for the most part it’s straight heat, low-90s fastballs in the zone. Phil held the Yankees to two runs in eight inning at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago.

Is that legal? (Tom Pennington/Getty)
Is that legal? (Tom Pennington/Getty)

Friday: RHP Chase Whitley (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (vs. NYY)
I can’t believe it’s been five years since the 26-year-old Gibson was drafted (22nd overall). I remember absolutely loving him at the time of the 2009 draft and hoping he’d fall to the Yankees, but alas. Gibson has a 3.77 ERA (3.77 FIP!) in 93 innings across 16 starts this season, though his strikeout rate (4.84 K/9 and 13.0 K%) is terrible. He does it by limiting walks (2.61 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%), getting grounders (55.5%), and keeping the ball in the park (0.58 HR/9 and 7.0 HR/FB%). Classic Twins pitcher, really. Lefties (.303 wOBA) have hit him harder than righties (.264 wOBA) and he’s been much better at home in Target Field (.240 wOBA) than on the road (.320 wOBA). Gibson works in the low-90s with his two and four-seam fastballs and in the mid-80s with his slider and changeup. He’ll throw one or two upper-70s curveballs per start. The slider is his go-to secondary pitch. The Yankees did not face Gibson in New York earlier this season.

Saturday: RHP David Phelps (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Yohan Pino (No vs. NYY)
Pino is a 30-year-old rookie who will be making his fourth career start this weekend. He has allowed eleven runs on 19 hits and three walks in 15.2 innings in his first three games, striking out a dozen with a 26.9% ground ball rate. That all works out to a 6.32 ERA and a 2.97 FIP. Hooray for small sample sizes. Lefties (.399 wOBA) have clobbered him in his very limited time as a big leaguer (.293 wOBA by righties). Pino has exactly the kind of repertoire you’d expect from a 30-year-old rookie: upper-80s fastball, mid-80s changeup, low-80s slider, mid-70s curveball. He knows how to pitch, he served his time in the minors, he’s been waiting his entire life for this this, blah blah blah, cliche cliche cliche. Obviously Pino has never faced the Yankees before.

Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (vs. NYY)
A few weeks ago the 31-year-old Nolasco came into Yankee Stadium with the second highest ERA in baseball and held the Yankees to one run in six innings. His 5.49 ERA (4.40 FIP) is currently the highest in baseball among qualified pitchers, so he’ll probably throw a no-hitter this weekend. Nolasco’s strikeout (6.37 K/9 and 16.1 K%), walk (2.39 BB/9 and 6.1 BB%), and ground ball (42.0%) numbers aren’t all that different from the last few seasons, but he has become incredibly homer prone (1.33 HR/9 and 12.0 HR/FB%). Both lefties (.400 wOBA) and righties (.367 wOBA) have hit him hard, but lefties slightly harder. Nolasco has also been much better at Target Field (.321 wOBA) than on the road (.430 wOBA). He’s a kitchen sink guy, throwing upper-80s/low-90s two and four-seam fastballs, an upper-80s cutter, low-80s changeups and sliders, an upper-70s splitter, and a mid-70s curveball. Seven different pitches and he uses five of them regularly (the cutter and changeup are show-me pitches).

Perkins. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Perkins. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Gardenhire’s bullpen is relatively fresh coming into the series. No one has pitched in back-to-back days or three out of four, anything like that. Closer LHP Glen Perkins (1.88 FIP) is one of the five or six best relievers in baseball regardless of handedness. RHP Casey Fien (3.62 FIP) and LHP Caleb Thielbar (3.44 FIP) handle most of the setup work. Thielbar was pitching in an independent league not too long ago.

The rest of the Minnesota bullpen includes RHP Matt Guerrier (3.29 FIP), RHP Jared Burton (4.87 FIP), RHP Anthony Swarzak (3.59 FIP), and long man RHP Samuel Deduno (4.30 FIP). Not exactly the most intimidating group but they are generally effective. Check out the status of the Yankees bullpen with our Bullpen Workload page, then check out Twinkie Town for everything you need to know about the Bombers’ opponent through the end of the weekend.