Who is Chih-Wei Hu and will the Twins regret trading him?

kevinjepsenTwitter was at its absolute best this afternoon as the Twins barreled toward the 3 p.m. trade deadline and finally made a move.

The Twins acquired reliever Kevin Jepsen, which inevitably led to some “Call Me Maybe” jokes since, you know, Carly Rae has the same last name.

Of the two minor league pitchers they gave up, one of them — Chih-Wei Hu — has not only a name but a reputation perfectly suited for the polarization that social media thrives upon. (The other is Alexis Tapia).

Unscientific research indicates exactly half of people responded with a “Hu” joke, showing that they had never head of the 21-year-old pitcher by noting that his name rhymes with who; the other half, the amateur scouts, complained that the Twins gave up too much for Jepsen — and at the very least, they made it clear they knew who Hu is.

For the first group, here’s a quick primer on Hu: The 21-year-old right-hander wasn’t thought of as much of a prospect when the Twins brought him over from Taiwan in 2013, but he has performed well at every level — including an impressive spot start earlier this year at Class AAA Rochester, though that was his only work above the Class A level. He is said to have pretty impressive command, a decent fastball and an intriguing palm ball, an obscure pitch that has grown increasingly rare in recent seasons.

He started the season as MLB.com’s 24th-ranked prospect in the Twins organization (not in all of baseball, just in the organization). The site moves quickly and now has him listed with Tampa Bay as that organization’s 16th-best prospect. So he’s not really a hot-shot, but he has made a pretty good leap already this season. In close to 200 career minor league innings, mostly as a starter, he’s 16-5 with a 2.31 ERA. That’s really good, of course, with strong peripheral numbers as well — but remember, too, that almost all of it is at Class A or below.

For the second group, here’s a quick take on whether the Twins will regret trading him: It’s almost impossible to tell how a prospect who hasn’t really pitched above Class A will fare long-term. The big separator will come in the next two seasons, when Hu will presumably get looks at Class AA and above. That said, he had emerged enough already to become a legitimately intriguing prospect, and the Rays are known for having a pretty good eye for pitching talent. It is entirely possible that he will make it to the majors; it’s also entirely possible that even if he’s major league caliber at some point, he won’t be as good as Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Jose Berrios and others still in the Twins’ pipeline who are considered better prospects.

While I might have preferred that the Twins didn’t give up somebody who has such good numbers, even at low levels, they owed it to themselves to — at the very least — try to beef up the bullpen. Jepsen is a rung below the best relievers, but he’s a right-handed power arm who gives the Twins a better chance to win those close and late games they’ve been losing for a couple of months. As Tim Brewster said, if you want to get some, you gotta bring some.

This was not Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps. Ramos was much further along and even had 27 at bats with the Twins before the trade. Trading prospects for relievers is a squishy business. The Twins could end up regretting this deal, but Hu still has a very long way to go for that to become true.

The Mariners really intentionally walked Hicks to get to Mauer

hicksmauerRepeat: The Mariners really intentionally walked Aaron Hicks to get to Joe Mauer in Thursday night’s 9-5 Twins victory.

It was either a(nother) sign that Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is not particularly good at his job … or the ultimate small-sample size move based on solid numbers but bad logic … or a more shrewd move than we realize that just happened to backfire when Mauer hit an RBI single … or a referendum of where Mauer is in his career … or ?

But I’m not ready to let it go yet. There are 162 baseball games a season, maybe more for the Twins this year if they can reel off another hot streak like the one they had in May. Small details and moments tend to be forgotten quickly, often as soon as the next pitch of the next game is thrown on the next day. But no, I’m not ready to let it go.

Is McClendon a bad manager? Is that all this is — someone bad at his job making a dumb move? Nah, that’s too easy. McClendon was in Pittsburgh with some utterly green teams that lacked talent for his first managerial stint, racking up losing season quickly. With a little talent and lessons learned, he led the Mariners to 87 wins last season; they’ve fallen back this year, but the balance is probably this: he’s not one of the best, and he’s not one of the worst. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe put him at No. 12 in his preseason rankings. That might be a little high, but Cafardo knows his stuff.

So let’s dig into the logic of the move a little. Hicks has been on fire. Since July 5, he’s hitting .397 with eight extra-base hits (including four homers) and a 1.137 OPS. It’s only 68 at bats, but it’s a scorching few weeks for a guy who had really shown little at the plate up to this point. Mauer, in the same span, had been pretty much what he has been all season: a .282 average and a .702 OPS. Also, with a left-handed pitcher on the mound, this factor comes into play: Hicks, a switch-hitter, is pounding lefties to the tune of a .404 average and 1.092 OPS this year. Mauer hits both lefties and righties with equal mediocrity this season (.722 OPS vs. .724). The short-term numbers, then, are screaming: walk Hicks. He’s more dangerous at this particular time against this particular pitcher.

Here’s where we must decide, though, if the flaw was in believing those numbers or if the only flaw was that the right move led to a poor result for the Mariners. And this, really, is the heart of pretty much every advanced stats vs. baseball instincts debate.

The numbers can tell you a little bit about high-leverage or low-leverage situations. What they don’t tell you is how each individual is going to react to each specific situation. The best they can do is provide a set of data from what has already happened in an attempt to explain what is going to happen.

This is both beautiful and dangerous because looking at the numbers from different angles will lead you to different conclusions. It also works better with inanimate objects or long-term trends than it does with human beings trying to hit a baseball, though I do absolutely believe there is a very important place in baseball for the consideration of advanced metrics — just as I believe very strongly in the human element.

Who is more likely to take a better at-bat in an 8-5 game at that moment against a left-handed pitcher: a guy who has been hot for three weeks but has a .227 lifetime average and has been intentionally walked exactly one other time in his career or a guy who has won three batting titles and — while he isn’t the same hitter he once was — has been intentionally walked 10 times this season (six more than any other teammate) and 125 times in his career (eighth-most among active players)?

Does it matter that a guy like Mauer, not fiery but certainly a man with pride, was probably at least smirking and a little annoyed when he got to the plate — and motivated to get a hit after a move that, on its face, inspires a “you have to be kidding me” reaction? Is that even a thing, and if that’s even a thing does it matter?

Is this a signal of a shifting of the guard — that while some teams deem Mauer dangerous (as evidenced by those 10 IBBs this year), there is at least one team that looks at him as a favorable option to go after compared to a guy who had a .563 OPS as recently as July 4? Is this a boon for Hicks, a sign that he has turned some sort of corner in terms of fear and respect?

I don’t know. And we’ll never really know any of this, which is the beautiful yet maddening gift of any second-guessing scenario. Even if we could go back and play it out both ways — pitching to Hicks or pitching to Mauer — we wouldn’t have proof that one was right or wrong. We’d just have proof of what worked or didn’t work — and even then, we might have had similar outcomes.

My best conclusion is this: I can talk myself into thinking it wasn’t a bad move — just a bad outcome for Seattle — because Hicks is hot and mashes lefties. But I can talk myself out of it pretty quickly when I think about long-term odds and short-term bets. And I think the Mariners arrived at what they thought was a logical conclusion based on too much information and not enough thought — a dangerous mix that led to what could have proven to be an important run with the way the Twins bullpen has been going.

But I’m done thinking about it now. I’m ready to let it go. I’m ready for the next weird baseball question with an impossible answer.

Glen Perkins’ wife writes about Twitter hate the Twins’ closer has experienced

Glen Perkins was a perfect 28-for-28 in save opportunities before the All-Star break. That’s good!

Since then, in four games, he’s blown two saves and lost another. That’s really bad!

It’s the kind of stretch that’s not altogether uncommon for a relief pitcher, but the timing of it has been awful. Fortunately, baseball fans, particularly those on Twitter, are usually of the rational bent and use the social media platform to express words of encouragement when players are in times of struggle.

Wait, that’s not true at all. Perkins has been getting lit up on Twitter. (This is a tame example). And his wife, Alisha, as part of a larger post about teaching their kids that it’s OK not to be perfect and that we all fall down, writes about it here:

Listen, I get that you want to hold Glen to a higher standard because he gets paid a lot and you are used to him being darn near perfect but that does not give you the right to cyber bully him and our family when things don’t go according to plan.

Do you think he doesn’t feel bad already?

Do you think he wanted to fail?

You are delusional if you think he doesn’t feel worst than anyone when he doesn’t succeed.

 It is easy to hide behind a screen and spew venom at people you will never meet and who are doing things you could only dream of but it does not make it ok. The “cyber bullying” fad in America needs to stop; it is destructive, offensive, unnecessary, and just pain cowardly. Let’s have a little grace for one another and for ourselves.

I tend to agree. While criticism comes with the territory of being a professional athlete (just as praise often does), personal attacks do not.

Cordarrelle Patterson’s development tells us plenty about Vikings coaches

pattersonCordarrelle Patterson was set up to fail by succeeding.

As a rookie in 2013, Patterson busted a few big plays as a wide receiver, looked terrifying as a kick returner and was downright dangerous whenever he took a handoff in space thanks both to the element of surprise and his own gifts. His head coach that season, Leslie Frazier (along with Frazier’s staff) was in win-now mode. That’s not a bad mode to be in one season after making the playoffs (and with the interest of self-preservation in mind), but we can say with some certainty now that it was probably the worst thing for Patterson.

Instead of insisting that Patterson learn the nuances of playing his position, he was put in spots that accentuated his limited strengths. For a developed role player who has proven to be a specialist, that’s fine. For a rookie first round draft pick, it’s downright dangerous. Again, it’s not necessarily that Frazier was to blame; if my job depended on winning games, I would throw WR screens to Patterson all day, too. But we can agree it did him no favors in the long run (and Frazier ended up getting fired anyway).

Perhaps because of his philosophy, his longer leash as a new coach or both, Mike Zimmer has of course taken a much different approach. Akin to a baseball organization demanding that a young pitcher learn to master more than just a blazing fastball, Zimmer has sacrificed some short-term gains — i.e. just letting Patterson run the routes he is comfortable with — in hopes of a bigger long-term payoff.

Zimmer was asked about Patterson, who is about to enter his third season, on Wednesday. The coach is not one to blow smoke, at least in my limited experience, so his comments are worth something: “So far he’s doing well. So far he’s done well. These two days he’s been impressive. Today is a new day, we’ll see how he does today. I’m hopeful that today is just as good as yesterday and yesterday was as good as the day before. I don’t know that he has turned the corner yet, but he is definitely kind of rounding it.”

It’s strange to think of production from Patterson in 2015 being viewed as a bonus when there were such high expectations — and perhaps unfair ones considering he really didn’t accomplish much as a receiver as a rookie — a season ago. But that’s where we are.

If Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner can turn Patterson into the complete package, it will be a testament to the techniques they are teaching and the approach they are taking. If Patterson doesn’t make it, the biggest culprit will be his own inability to blossom. But it will also be fair to speculate that having too much success as a rookie in too easy of a fashion played a major role as well.

RandBall Q&A: Curt Schilling’s expanded thoughts on Puckett and character

schilling2Curt Schilling picked up the phone Wednesday and, after my introduction, he jumped in immediately with this: “I understand I ruffled some feathers.”

Indeed. Two days ago, I wrote about the former pitcher turned ESPN analyst, who gave a radio interview Sunday in which he said, “For every John Smoltz there’s a Kirby Puckett,” while talking about the character of players in the Hall of Fame. It picked at some old scabs about Puckett’s personal life, and it touched off a lively debate in the comments section — some of which was not particularly kind to Schilling (pictured during spring training this season along with current Red Sox player Dustin Pedroia).

Schilling’s quote was a juicy sound bite and made for a relevant headline, but I tend to not want to stop there if possible. So I sought out Schilling in hopes that he would expand on his larger point, which was that we tend to worship athletes without knowing enough about them. Schilling, who was en route to a family vacation, was kind enough to take my call.

Q Puckett appears to be a name that popped into your head when you were making a larger point, but …

A Listen, the context with which the question was answered is we were talking about (Roger) Clemens and (Barry) Bonds and steroids and the Hall of Fame. The question was, ‘Should the Hall of Fame make a wing for (guys with) bad character?’ And I said that’s a kind of Pandora’s box if you open that.  … What people don’t know is that I idolized Kirby Puckett. I loved Kirby Puckett and still love Kirby Puckett. But I have three boys, and the thought that we create unapproachable, mythological figures out of athletes is a challenge for me. Because I see them. I am one of them. I know how many flaws I have. … When you start to talk about the character of people you don’t know, it’s dangerous. I played with guys who the public thought were the greatest human beings ever, and I knew they were scumbags. That’s like any sport.

I know Kirby is no longer with us. … I was devastated when I read that [2003 Sports Illustrated] article. I faced him [in 1990] and it was one of the most memorable at bats of my life. Walter Payton was the same way. Walter Payton has a Man of the Year award named after him. And off the field, would you want your kids being anything like that? But I apologize to the Puckett family. I didn’t mean to offend anybody. I just meant to respond to the question.

Q Do you think – and maybe this is an obvious question – but as someone who was a ballplayer and was around ballplayers, do you assume fans would just rather not know these things about athletes, their heroes?

A Fans want to know until they don’t want to know. It’s the reality TV generation. When was the last time you watched a reality show that shed a really positive, kind light on someone. Nobody watches that. The only show I ever watch because I believe in the humans on it is Duck Dynasty. All the other stuff is, “who has a worse life than me?” People love to find out that people who are quote-unquote more famous than they are are more miserable than they are.

I didn’t for a second intend to offend Kirby’s family. I was in the (group of people) that was just blown away by what came out about him after retirement. Pretty much the same way I was about Walter Payton. … I mean, I get that people might be (upset) with me for bringing it up, but I wasn’t lying. I wasn’t making it up. And again, I never made these comments from a glass house or pedestal. I just made them as observations. People want to say, ‘Oh, as a guy who bankrupted a business …’ well, I’m like, ‘OK, being an entrepreneur and spending $50 million of your own money is somehow a bad thing?’ I did it. I paid for it. It’s my fault. I’m going to live with that until the day I die. … I made mistakes, but my glass house doesn’t have to do with drugs or infidelity or spousal abuse or DUI. That’s not going to come out in some book after I die.

Losing three times in one game stings Twins

duensingThe standings say the Twins merely went from 52-46 to 52-47 last night, which is not good but still must be a relief to the local team. They are still in the second Wild Card spot by two games. They are assured of being a playoff team at the 100-game mark of this season, something aided by the mediocrity of the second-tier of the American League but still something that would have been highly unlikely when the year started.

All that said, some losses have the potential to hurt more than others. I say “potential” because sometimes we have a tendency to overrate momentum, particularly in baseball. The Twins could go out and win 8-1 this afternoon, quickly erasing the lingering aftertaste from Tuesday’s 8-7 loss.

Their resiliency will be tested in the wake of a game that the Twins lost not once, not twice, but three times.

They lost it in the middle innings when they couldn’t do more damage against shaky Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton and then gift-wrapped a two-run fifth that tied the game 2-2.

They lost it in the eighth, when Casey Fien and Brian Duensing (particularly the latter, who gave up a walk and three-run double to two lefties who struggle mightily against lefties) unraveled as the Pirates took a 7-3 lead.

And they lost it again in the ninth when closer Glen Perkins had another rough outing, giving up a long home run right after the Twins had improbably rallied with four runs of their own in the bottom of the eighth.

Minnesota’s bullpen ERA swelled to 4.01 in the loss, down to 24th in MLB. Twins relievers have 200 strikeouts — dead last in the majors, and 41 fewer than the next-lowest team. The bullpen’s struggles had been masked in part by Perkins’ brilliance before the All-Star break, but his recent struggles (two blown saves and last night’s loss) have accentuated the problem.

A bad bullpen sets a team up for crushing defeats — and nights like Tuesday, where one loss feels like so much more.

Will a Tom Brady vs. the NFL court case wind up in Minneapolis?

Here’s a scary thought if you are really tired of Deflategate: the NFLPA’s lawsuit on behalf of Brady is reportedly being filed in Minnesota, per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.

Why would they do that? Well, here’s Maury Brown, writing for USA Today’s The Fields of Green blog, ripping the NFL for not settling with Tom Brady and noting the consequences before Rapoport’s report:

The NFL needed to levy a stiff fine and remove game suspensions from the mix. That would have been smart and been your settlement. Otherwise, Brady and his defense team will now ask for his case in Federal court to be heard in Minnesota or Massachusetts, both of which are seen as pro-labor. Brady gets an injunction to stop the suspension while the case is heard, thus making Goodell toothless initially. The downside for Brady could be that if the courts rule in favor of the NFL, Brady is potentially sitting on the sideline at the end of the season when games matter most.

But the odds of that seem low. Due process was not exactly fair for Brady, and the courts are likely to see that. If Roger Goodell had had any sense, he would have settled. Of course given how he’s handled other matters recently, he didn’t. Now, we’ll see how this plays in court.

Indeed, we will — and perhaps we’ll get a close-up look at it if it really goes to trial. Remember when Pat and Kevin Williams of the Vikings were suspended in 2008 for four games in conjunction with StarCaps? They were part of a lawsuit filed in Minneapolis. Kevin Williams ultimately served two games … in 2011. Pat Williams was finished with football by then.

Fan in Vikings jersey at Packers shareholder meeting is a Minnesota hero

The Packers have 363,948 shareholders. The last time they sold stock, it was for $250 a share a few years back. The team’s “owners” cannot sell the stock. It is basically a willing donation to the team masked as ownership. But it’s a very clever thing that makes the team a bunch of money and makes the fans feel good, and it helped pay for the Lambeau Field renovation even if the Wall Street Journal called it “the worst stock in America.”

And it does have a few perks. In addition to allowing stock buyers to claim they are part-owners in the team, those who are shareholders get to attend an annual shareholders meeting. While it would take several Lambeau Fields to hold a meeting of 363,948 shareholders, the usual turnout is about 12,000 to 14,000.

And this year’s meeting is today.

There is nothing particularly noteworthy about the agenda. There is, however, something particularly noteworthy about a couple of fans in attendance. Per this photo tweeted out, there was a man wearing a No. 84 Vikings jersey in attendance; you can also see another purple-clad hero to the left of him in the picture.

The photo was tweeted out by a Packers fan clearly annoyed by their presence. I will now make it my mission to find them and give them the credit they deserve.

Lynx get reinforcements; Twins need them

tuloIn a few ways, this is an apples to oranges comparison.

The Lynx have been one of the WNBA’s elite teams for the past five seasons, including this one, while the Twins were dreadful for the four preceding this one.

The Lynx play in a league with just 12 teams, where salaries are not really a factor in trades. The Twins are in a more competitive 30-team league where salaries do make a difference.

And, specifically in the case of the Lynx’s acquisition Monday of star center Sylvia Fowles, they were dealing with a player who specifically wanted to play here — which can help facilitate a deal. On the flip side, while plenty of players wouldn’t mind coming here to play for the Twins, there are other markets and teams that might be more attractive.

As such, in some ways it’s really fair to look at the events of recent weeks — when the Lynx have added Fowles and guard Renee Montgomery to a win-now mix of players while the Twins have yet to make an outside move to bolster their roster — and wonder why the Twins can’t be more like the Lynx.

The Twins have to think about more than the near-term when they consider trades, whereas the Lynx are built for this season and perhaps one or two more at the top. The Twins have to contend with other teams who have similar holes (shortstop and relief pitcher) when trying to make deals.

That said, there is also this: even though the Twins are contending for a playoff spot a year or two early, here they are. In a mediocre American League, they would be in the postseason if the playoffs started today, and anyone who gets in is just a hot streak away from winning it all.

It sounds as though they are working on making a deal, particularly for a relief pitcher. That’s good. But it also sounds like they might be stopping short of going after a major impact player. They’ve watched division-leading Kansas City nab Johnny Cueto, and now the Wild Card-contending Blue Jays have acquired shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

The Twins need reinforcements — and they need to be more than token acquisitions. That doesn’t mean sacrificing the future,  but it does mean recognizing the opportunity in the present.

The Lynx have made the kinds of trades a team of their stature and expectations needs to make; and now the Twins, relative to their position, must do the same.

Curt Schilling questions character of Kirby Puckett in Hall of Fame rant

schilingKirby Puckett has had his dirty laundry aired in public (at least in the media) on multiple occasions, perhaps most notably in this 2003 Sports Illustrated piece, three years before his early death.

It is a part of the Puckett story that most Twins fans either honestly don’t know about or choose to forget about — or, at the most, gloss over when thinking about the baseball hero.

The less-than-perfect side of Puckett the human, in fact, gets buried so deep that it becomes somewhat shocking when someone brings up his name in a negative way. But that’s exactly what Curt Schilling did in a radio interview Sunday, which was replayed Monday on the Mike and Mike Show (Insider required for link). Talking about the character of Hall of Famers, Schilling offered up this:

“You know there are a lot of guys with plaques who say really cool stuff and then you know the other side of the story. For every John Smoltz, there’s a Kirby Puckett. And there’s a story. People are human. We do a lot of the same dumb things a lot of other people do. The difference now is guys who hang around the game, they used to protect players. And there are a lot of guys who they protected who went into the Hall of Fame who were racist, who were gamblers, who were whatever, who other people knew about.”

The broad point was not new: that many of our sacred athletes were hardly saints, and that in a different era these players were protected a lot of times by those who wrote about them (whereas now much more is made public). Schilling, it should be said, hasn’t had the perfect off-field life either — though it should also be said that it is possible to criticize someone else even if you are not, in fact, perfect.

Maybe it shouldn’t be jarring that the name Schilling reached for was Puckett while making his counter-point to the sterling character of Smoltz. But it felt jarring to hear it.