2011 Season Forecast: Minnesota Twins

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  94 – 68 (Winners of the AL Central, losers to the Yankees in the playoffs…  Again.)
2009:  87 – 76
2008:  88 – 75
2007:  79 – 83
2006:  96 – 66

This has been a great run for a well-managed franchise.

Runs Scored: 781 (5th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 671 (3rd in the AL)

With this combination, the Twins would be expected to win 93.2 games – right about where they finished.

Season Recap:

At the outset, the Twins were considered among the favorites to win the division, and having tossed aside the White Sox whenever they needed to, held off Chicago to walk away with the division for the third time and fourth in five seasons.

The Twins came out strong in April, winning 15 of 23.  They held serve in May, but when the Sox got hot in the summer, the Twins had their worst month in June.  This ended in July, however, as the Twins got stronger every month and looked like a potential World Series team until they faced the Yankees in the playoffs.

Among the hardships – Justin Morneau took a knee to the head while sliding into second base against the Blue Jays and missed the last three months of the season at a time when the first baseman was hitting like Ted Williams.  And, closer Joe Nathan went down after one spring training appearance, missing the season following Tommy John surgery.

The Twins made a few moves to shore up the bullpen after Nathan’s injury, acquiring Matt Capps from Washington in July, and later picking up Brian Fuentes from the Angels in September – in both cases for essentially spare parts.

Starters:

Francisco Liriano put his career back on track in 2010, winning a rotation slot in the spring and then winning 14 games and striking out 201 batters during the season.  This, as much as anything, gave the Twins a needed shot in the arm as the season started.  Carl Pavano had an even better 2010 than 2009, pitching 221 innings, hardly walking anyone at all (just 37) and winning 17 games.  Kevin Slowey went 13 – 6 despite pitching at essentially league average levels, but also doesn’t walk anybody (29 in 155.2 innings).  Same goes for Scott Baker (12 – 9, 43 walks in 170.1 innings) and the less effective Nick Blackburn (40 walks in 161 innings).  Swingman Brian Duensing was a team MVP candidate, making 13 starts amongst his 53 appearances, winning 10 of 13 decisions, and finishing with a 2.62 ERA.  Duensing also has great control.

All this is good – but a long-time reader of Bill James might notice something particularly troubling.  One of his predictors of future success (or decline) is looking at the ratio of strikeouts to wins.  Pavano won 17 with only 117 strikeouts – so he’d be expected to decline to something like 8 – 11.  Blackburn, already well below average with his 5.42 ERA, won 10 and fanned just 68.  He might expect to go 5 – 7.  Kevin Slowey won 13 and fanned just 116.  He’s a candidate to fall to 10 – 10 or something like that. Liriano and Baker are probably good candidates to hold steady, with good strikeout rates.

Perhaps the really high control guys can get away with this more than other pitchers because fewer guys are getting on base.  Still – I’d be a bit nervous about this.  Likely Duensing will get more starts than Blackburn in 2011.

Relievers:

When Joe Nathan went down, Jon Rauch became the first closer.  He was okay – not great, though – so the Twins picked up Matt Capps for the rest of the way – and he was fantastic.  There are other quality relievers around, too.  Jose Mijares is a decent late inning option, as is the returning Pat Neshak, with Alex Burnett picking up long relief.  Jeff Manship and Glen Perkins will battle for the other slots in the pen.  I think, however, that the Twins will miss Rauch, Jesse Crain (3.04 ERA in 71 appearances) and Matt Guerier (3.17 ERA, 74 appearances), and even Ron Mahay (3.44 ERA in 41 appearances).  Manager Ron Gardenhire will have to work a little magic here.

Catching:

Joe Mauer remains the best catcher in baseball, despite having a season that was well below his career breakout season of 2009.  Mauer is fighting bum knees and a sore back and will eventually turn into a first baseman or DH before too long.  For now, Mauer is solid defensively against the run, works well with this staff, and doesn’t make many errors.  Drew Butera is his less than tolerable backup.

Infield:

Morneau’s injury has already been covered – as a hitter, he’s remarkable and as a fielder he has little range.  After sitting out for three months (and much of the early spring), here’s hoping he can get back and play 150 games this year.  If not, the Twins will move Michael Cuddyer back to first base.  Cuddyer is better in terms of range, but can’t hit like Morneau.  Last year, the Twins had the second best second baseman in the AL in Orlando Hudson.  This year, the Twins imported switch hitting Tsuyoshi Nishioka to play second.  Nishioka won the batting title in Japan last year, has gap power and blazing speed.  The new shortstop will likely be Alexi Casilla, who played well in a utilty role last year.  I like Casilla a little, but I’m not certain his defensive skills will make up for his not being as good an offensive player as J.J. Hardy.  At third will be rookie Danny Valencia, who came up and did a nice job replacing the injured and ineffective Brendan Harris.  Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert will replace former utility player Nick Punto, who joins the Cardinals.

Outfield:

Delmon Young had a breakout season offensively, but can’t seem to run down anything in the field when playing in left.  Denard Span has solid defensive skills and occasionally hits like a leadoff hitter.  Last year, not so much, but the Twins survived anyway.  In right, Jason Kubel or Michael Cuddyer will get the bulk of the action.  Both are slightly above average hitters and barely tolerable fielders.  Jason Repko is a pretty good fourth outfield option, and Ben Revere might gallop onto the roster and take the #5 slot.

DH:

The 40-year-old Jim Thome had a remarkably productive season in 2010 and will return for another go in 2011.  When getting a day off, look for Cuddyer or Kubel to take at bats.

Down on the Farm:

My son, Casey, is playing on his first little league team and it’s fashioned after the Rochester Red Wings.  We use their hat; their tee-shirt is our uniform.  I’ll be ordering a hat later today.  But if you are looking at THIS Red Wings team and not ours, you’d be a little concerned.  Most of the guys who can play some and played in Rochester have already arrived.  Danny Valencia is now your regular third baseman, Trevor Plouffe (a low average hitter with some power) got a cup of coffee and may be the utility infielder.  One of the regulars on this team, I was surprised to see, was corner outfielder Jacque Jones.  Yeah – THAT Jacque Jones…  The Red Wings hitters were a little light, and the pitchers – mostly the starters – weren’t very good.  The one arm that impressed me was Anthony (Phi) Slama, who saved 17 games, fanned 74 in 65.1 innings, and allowed just 41 hits.  Oh – since I mentioned that Jacque Jones was still playing, I should note that Mike Maroth logged 11 innings in AAA as well here.

Ben Revere is a centerfielder who got a cup of coffee after hitting .305 in AA New Britain; he’s a burner with no power – and that lack of power also means a lack of triples, even for a guy who stole 36 bases in 94 games.  He’s the new Matty Alou, I guess.  Joe Benson hit 23 homers, can run a little, and is just 23.  The power was a surprise, he had 23 homers in his previous four seasons and 21 games of A+ ball in 2010.  If this is a legitimate change in his skill set, he’ll get to the majors in a couple of years.

The pitcher in this group I really want to see is reliever Billy Bullock – the third round pick from 2008 out of Florida.  In 36.2 innings, he struck out 60 batters.  60!  He walked 24 guys, must be wild as all get out, but WOW that’s an impressive number.  The Twins moved Deolis Guerra up from AA to AAA at the end of 2010 – after a year he went 2 – 10 with a 6.24 ERA.  I don’t get that.  He’s young and must have amazing stuff.

A couple of pitchers catch your eye at A+ Fort Myers.  Bruce Pugh was just 7 – 10, but he struck out 106 in 102.2 innings and allowed just 81 hits.  Reliever Liam Hendriks fits the Minnesota control mode – in 74.2 innings, his K/W ratio was 66/8.  Another reliever there, Bobby Lanigan, was 41/7 in 54.1 innings.  As such, a guy named Shooter Hunt probably won’t make it – walking 84 in 67.1 innings with 19 wild pitches.  He also struck out 79 in 67.1 innings – so he must have an amazing arm.  In 2008, he was a first round draft pick, but he’s still figuring things out.
2011 Forecast:

I see too many reasons for the Twins to take a step back in 2011, and won’t pick them to repeat.  I know the new Target Field gets in the way of people having great offensive seasons and helps the pitchers.  However, I think three of the six starting pitchers will fall back and fall back a lot.  The bullpen doesn’t seem as deep as in 2010.  Nishioka could be a revelation, but Orlando Hudson was really good last year.  If Nishioka is that good, it’s just a wash.  Valencia played well, but is already 26 – so he’s a bit long in the tooth to have a long and successful career.  Mauer is starting to accumulate wear and tear and his knees are already problematic.  Jim Thome turns 41 in August.

The offense is going to fall back some – the question is how much, and depends in large part how much Delmon Young falls back, Mauer or Thome fall back, and how Morneau returns.  I think the Twins will be lucky to score 725 runs, and the pitching staff will probably fall back to about 725 runs.  As such, we’re talking about a .500 season, which will likely be well behind the Sox.

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2010 – Top AL Pitchers

Just as a recap, here’s what I am trying to do:

1) I start with the number of runs allowed by each pitcher, and the number of innings that guy pitched.

2) I modify the number of runs allowed to account for any bias based on the pitcher’s home park.

3) I modify the number of runs allowed based on my defensive rating system for teams and players because if you have Seattle’s team defense behind you, you are less likely to allow a run than if you had the Royals defense behind you.

Top 10 Starters:

Runs    Inn    Pitcher
34.1    173.2    Clay Buchholz (BOS)
29.7    249.2    Felix Hernandez (SEA)
26.5    208.0    Jon Lester (BOS)
26.2    237.2    C.C Sabathia (NYY)
25.8    200.2    Gio Gonzalez (OAK)

25.8    196.2    Trevor Cahill (OAK)
24.0    213.0    John Danks (CHI)
23.5    130.2    Brian Dunsing (MIN)
22.5    224.1    Jered Weaver (LAA)
19.4    191.2    Francisco Liriano (MIN)

I was surprised that Buchholz saved more runs, but he also had a remarkable ERA pitching in Fenway.  Like #3 Jon Lester.  Brian Duensing made 13 starts when Minnesota needed them, and his overall contributions were also impressive.  Not sure if he has a 200 inning season in him, but at this rate, he would have led the league in runs saved.  Among the returners from last year, Fernandez, Lester, and Sabathia…

Top 10 Relievers:

Runs    Inn    Pitcher
20.4    65.2    Joakim Soria (KC)
20.0    74.1    Daniel Bard (BOS)
17.6    60.1    Joaquin Benoit (TEX)
16.7    63.0    Chris Perez (CLE)
16.4    49.0    Andrew Bailey (OAK)

15.8    60.0    Mariano Rivera (NYY)
15.7    62.0    Darren O’Day (TEX)
14.6    41.2    Alexi Ogando (TEX)
14.3    60.2    Matt Thornton (CWS)
13.7    62.1    Rafael Soriano (TB)

Three Rangers in the top ten – which helps explain how they controlled the division if the offense could just get a lead through five or six innings.  This is the second year I have made the list – and Bailey, Rivera, O’Day, and Thornton all returned to the list.

Bottom 10 Pitchers:

Runs    Inn    Pitcher
-56.5     203.1    James Shields (TB)
-56.3     109.1    Ryan Rowland-Smith (SEA)
-35.8     150.0    Scott Kazmir (LAA)
-32.0    171.0    Jeremy Bonderman (DET)
-28.5    141.1    Scott Feldman (TEX)

-24.9    186.2    A.J. Burnett (NYY)
-23.1    161.0    Brian Bannister (KC)
-20.9    127.2    Josh Beckett (BOS)
-19.7     79.2    David Huff (CLE)
-19.4    161.0    Nick Blackburn (MIN)

Shields cleared 50 because he pitched 200 innings, had a solid defense behind him, and kept serving up homers.  The Rays stuck with him all season and will be giving him another shot in 2011.  I don’t think he’ll be this bad…  The worst pitcher, though, was Rowland-Smith.  He pitched just 109 innings, so essentially he gave up a run more than the average pitcher every other inning.  Ouch.

Yankees – Phillies on Wednesday as Angels Collapse…

It was over within minutes of the first gaffe, a baserunning blunder by Vlad Guerrero where he got caught off of first base on a shallow fly to right field.  Suddenly, Joe Saunders couldn’t get the same strike calls as Andy Pettitte – who really was great, by the way – and a few walks led to a Johnny Damon liner that put the Yankees ahead for good.  However, I still thought the Angels had a chance with Mariano Rivera out there for a six out save.  Los Angeles extended Mariano in the eighth inning and got a run to cut the lead to 3 – 2.  If the Angels and Scott Kazmir could have gotten a very quick 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the eighth, I would have bet on the Angels to force a game seven.  Instead, two errors on consecutive bunts finished off whatever life was in the Angels.  Rivera, now rested, easily dispatched three batters in the ninth and the Yankees are heading to the World Series.

Tomorrow or Wednesday, we’ll take a few minutes to break it down – but long and short, the two best teams in each league are meeting to decide it all.  And that’s cool.  To make the Indians feel worse, it’ll be Cliff Lee against C.C. Sabathia in the opener on Wednesday night…

Mike Scioscia was generally complimentary of the Yankees, but he did bag MLB for catering to Fox TV wishes and adding a number of off days between the end of the season and the playoffs, between each round of the playoffs, and even adding off days within the playoffs.  He’s right, you know.  The Yankees and Angels, after playing 162 games in 180 days during the regular season, only played eight games in the last 20.  Suddenly the fall classic is forced into playing World Series games in November.  [ESPN]

Other news…

Steve Phillips didn’t survive his latest sex scandal and now will have to hope for a book deal after he completes a recovery program at a treatment facility for an undisclosed problem.  ESPN fired the Baseball Tonight analyst because his reputation was “irreparably damaged.”  [ESPN]

Tim Hudson and the Atlanta Braves are discussing a three-year deal that would replace his one-year $12 million option for 2010.  Hudson looked good following Tommy John surgery and is potentially a free agent.  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday!

Two very patient hitters of the 70s and 80s celebrate today – Toby Harrah (1948) ad Mike Hargrove (1949).  Others celebrating include:  Frank Selee (1859), William (Kid) Gleason (1866), Lee Tannehill (1880), Harry Camnitz (1884), Snuffy Stirnweis (1918), Elio Chacon (1936), Steve Rogers (1949), Wayne Garland (1950), Mark Sweeney (1969), and Francisco Liriano (1983)

Jeter Ties Gehrig; Ripken’s Monument Recovered

Cue Tim Kurkjian – it’s time for the Derek Jeter retrospective…  Jeter’s third hit last night (breaking an 0 – 12 streak) tied him with Lou Gehrig atop the all-time list for most hits in a Yankees uniform.  Certainly Jeter is worthy – a heads up player who hustles every night, plays nearly every day, and is nearly universally accepted as the face of MLB.  Congratulations are certainly in order.  [ESPN]

So how many more hits does Jeter have in him?  Averaging 160 hits a year until he’s 40 (not a total stretch; he’d have to stay healthy and near the top of the lineup to do it), he’d have 3500+ hits.  He’d have to change positions or seriously exceed 160 hits per season to make a legitimate run at 4000 hits (not impossible).  Personally, I think Rose’s hit record is likely safe, but if Jeter hits 40 closer to 3750 hits and is still batting around .310 when he gets to 40, he’d at least have a shot.  Is Jeter capable of playing until he’s 44 or 45?

Another player who could make the 3000 hit club is just four hits shy of his ninth straight 200 hit season – Ichiro Suzuki.  Ichiro would pass the record previously held by Wee Willie Keeler, who had 200 hits each year from 1894 to 1901.  Ichiro already has 2001 MLB hits, and 1278 hits while playing in Japan, putting him about 5 years shy of Pete Rose’s career mark if you combine the two leagues.  Now – to be fair, playing in Japan is a far cry from playing in the majors, but they also play shorter seasons.  Rose had another 427 hits as a minor leaguer playing in the Reds chain, so perhaps Ichiro should be gunning for 4683 total professional hits…  [MLB]

One more Tim Kurkjian moment…  Brian Roberts collected his 50th double last night, the third time he has done that, joining Tris Speaker (5), Paul Waner (3), and Stan Musial (3) as the only players to have had 50 or more doubles in three or more seasons.  [MLB]

Dodgers pitcher Randy Wolf thinks he followed in the footsteps of Randy Johnson – injuring his elbow swinging a bat.  Word is that Wolf will miss at least one start with tightness in his elbow, but you never know.  Thankfully, Hiroki Kuroda is back.  [ESPN]

Meanwhile, teammate Clayton Kershaw will miss a start after bruising his shoulder shagging flies during batting practice.  Kershaw ran into an auxiliary scoreboard – with his right (non-throwing) shoulder.  When he can deal with the pain, he’ll pitch again.  [FoxSports]

Phillies pitching woes continue…  Scott Eyre is getting an examination on his elbow, and J.A. Happ will miss a start with an oblique strain.  Jamie Moyer gets the start in Happ’s absence.  [ESPN]

Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will get a cortisone shot to help his ailing lower back, hoping to coax a start out of the 43-year-old pitcher about ten days from now.  [MLB]

Speaking of bumps and bruises…  Cardinal outfielder Matt Holliday stumbled running out a grounder and bruised his knee and is day-to-day.  And B.J. Upton’s ankle is bothering him – he looked slow chasing a Derek Jeter double in the fifth and was pulled by manager Joe Maddon.  [MLB]

Four men were arrested and charged with stealing the aluminum “8” that honors Cal Ripken, Jr. outside of Camden Yards.  While the monument was recovered, it’s not yet known if the monument can be remounted on its base.  [SI]

The Twins activated Francisco Liriano off the DL, but announced that the disappointing starter is now going to be used out of the bullpen for the rest of the year.  [SI]

The Orioles acquired Sean Henn from the Twins for future considerations (cash or a minor leaguer).  Henn is a long-time Yankees prospect who is now with his fourth organization (also San Diego).  The 28-year-old had a few other MLB trips, but hasn’t stuck – so consider Henn “organizational depth”; he’s not a prospect at this stage of his career.  [SI]

A frustrated Jose Reyes still wants to try to play in 2009, and has even offered to play winter ball to be ready for the 2010 season.  Reyes hasn’t played since late May – when the Mets were just one game out of first…  Seems so long ago, doesn’t it?  [FoxSports]

Welcome Back! Those returning from the DL include Dexter Fowler (Rockies), Jeff Karstens (Pirates), Ryan Hanigan (Reds), Brendan Donnelly (Marlins), Donald Veal (Pirates) and Joe Crede (Twins).

Strasburg Signs Record Deal; Tigers Add Huff

$15.1 million!  Smoking the old record by more than $4.5 million, Stephen Strasburg is baseball’s richest rookie ever – and immediately becomes a member of the Washington Nationals 40 man roster.  Don’t be surprised if Strasburg is sent to AA for a couple of weeks to before getting to play with the Nationals in September.  According to Stan Kasten, the deal was inked at 11:58:43 – leaving Kasten to remark, “we didn’t even need that last minute.”  [ESPN]

The only three first rounders not to sign were high schoolers Devon Washington (TB) and Matt Purke (TEX) – who both will head to class next year and possibly reenter the draft in a year or two – and Aaron Crow (KC) who wasn’t subject to Monday’s deadline as he has no college eligibility left.  Crow was drafted #9 by Washington last year and didn’t sign…  I have no idea what that kid is waiting for…  Anyway, looking at the list of signed players it looks like the biggest winner was Scott Boros, who got six first rounders to sign.  [ESPN]

Nate McLouth’s hamstring injury isn’t healing, so the Braves outfielder is heading to the DL.  Reid Gorecki gets the call from AAA.  Gorecki has been in the minors for nearly a decade now, and is a nice AAA outfielder, but not a prospect.  [SI]

This isn’t going to be that fun a September for the Twins.  Justin Morneau left last night’s game with an inner ear infection and is day-to-day.  And, after another lousy start, Francisco Liriano was sent to the DL with a tired arm.  Former Mets prospect Philip Humber gets another shot at the rotation.  The Rice alum hasn’t yet lived up to the hype since being drafted in the first round (#3 overall) in 2004.  [SI]

Detroit added Baltimore Orioles DH/1B/3B Aubrey Huff to the lineup for the stretch run.  A team that works hard to score runs, Huff will add a quality lefty bat to the roster.  The Tigers gave up A+ reliever Brett Jacobson, a guy with a mid-90s fastball, decent control, and just starting to show consistent success.  Huff is a free agent in six weeks, and this is the first time he’ll have been in a pennant race – but, Huff admitted he liked the way things were coming together in Baltimore.  [ESPN]

Let’s clean up some old news…  Hiroki Kuroda (LA) may be fine, but he’s missing his next start.  Vincente Padilla (TEX) and John Smoltz (BOS) were released and are free to find new gigs.  What kinds of problems does a Vincente Padilla pose such that a pennant chasing team drops its best arm on the big league roster?  Somebody is going to do some digging before signing him.  Or, he can go to Washington and help out immediately…

ESPN was reporting this morning on TV that Kevin Gregg, who has had an AWFUL August and blew another save last night by allowing four runs and a game winning homer to Padre Kyle Blanks, is going to be replaced as the Cubs closer.  Gregg had pitched better every month, but starting with back-to-back blown saves in Florida, Gregg has looked like the bad version of Brad Lidge…

Welcome to the Bigs!  Baltimore recalled Kam Mickolio, a reliever who has shown improvement in the minors.  In college, he would walk more than he would strike out, but lately he’s looked better and better, so why not give the kid a shot…

Add Brian Matusz to Your Fantasy Roster; And Do They Teach Geography to USC Football Players?

Did I hear that correctly?  Chris Mortensen is interviewing Clay Matthews, Jr., the USC “grad” who was drafted by Green Bay.  When asked about the difference between SoCAL and Green Bay, Matthews said he had to go to the internet and look up Green Bay – he didn’t know that Green Bay was in Wisconsin.  Really?

The Angels are on a great run – without Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero – and now those guys are coming back…  Guerrero was activated from the DL (calf, hamstring injuries to the left leg) and is getting at bats in the DH slot.  [SI]

Twins starter Kevin Slowey had successful surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and expects to be ready for spring training.   What should make everyone nervous is that Francisco Liriano missed a start with forearm stiffness and is going to make a go of it on Tuesday.  Not that Liriano has been that good in 2009, but if he goes down, so do the chances of the Twins sneaking into the playoffs.  [SI]

Newly acquired Red Scott Rolen had a CT scan on his head and checked out as normal – though he still hasn’t played since getting hit by a Jason Marquis pitch in the head on Sunday.  [SI]

Speaking of third basemen who used to be really, really good…  Troy Glaus hoped to return to the Cardinals in August, but a bulging disc in his back shut down his rehab.  He now hopes to play in September.  [SI]

The Mets can’t keep anyone healthy – and now comes word that Luis Castillo had to leave last night’s game against the Cardinals when he fell down the dugout steps and injured his ankle.  Castillo is day-to-day…  [ESPN]

Lance Berkman’s calf isn’t ready, so don’t look for him to return to the Astros when his DL stint ends this week.  [MLB]

San Diego released Mark Prior, whose rehab hasn’t been as successful as anyone had hoped.  Very sad…

Welcome Back!  Seattle returns Adrian Beltre from the DL, while Wilkin Ramirez got a quick shot to be on the Tigers roster – and was promptly sent back down to Toledo…

Hurry Back!  The Cubs placed Andres Blanco on the DL with a calf strain.  Bobby Wilson and Chris Woodward were dispatched to AAA with the return of other players…

Welcome to the Bigs!  Alex Avila gets a cup of coffee with Detroit.  Avila is a catching prospect with some power and patience at the plate.  He was recalled from AA Erie, and he’s not totally ready for the bigs, but he looks like he can play some…  The Alabama grad was a fifth round draft pick in 2008, and could make Baseball America’s Top Ten in the Tigers Chain list soon.  Brian Matusz was undefeated at AA Bowie, so Baltimore decided to give the kid a shot last night – and now Matusz is undefeated with the Orioles…   That makes Matusz the fifth rookie bird to win his first game in 2009.  Matusz was a first round pick out of the University of San Diego and has awesome stuff – strikes people out, has a breaking ball that moves, and hardly walks anyone (last night’s effort not withstanding).  If Earl Weaver had his way, Matusz would hang in long relief for a year or two before moving into the rotation in 2011 and turning into Scott McGregor if not Jim Palmer.   If you can, get this kid on your fantasy roster soon.

Afterthoughts…  Jayhawk alum Tom Gorzelanny started and got the win for Chicago last night, allowing just one earned in 7-plus innings…  I admit it – I bleed Crimson and Blue…

Willingham’s Night is Doubly Grand; Hudson Close to Braves Return

For the most part, Mighty Casey Baseball has tended to look at roster issues – injuries, rookies, and transactions – to help someone who is managing his or her fantasy baseball team make good roster decisions or learn a thing or two about players who are on the free agent market.   It analyzes trades, and occasionally gets to tell a longer story or two.   But every now and then something fun happens in a baseball game and you just want to make a note of it…

Yesterday, Josh Willingham became the third National Leaguer (Tony Cloninger, Fernando Tatis) to hit two grand slams in a game.  (Ten have done it in the AL, by the way).  Willingham is a professional hitter, someone all good teams need because he can help the offense and fill in at a few positions on the field, and always gives his best effort.  As a Marlin, he was a crowd favorite and a clutch hitter.  So to see the old Fish hit a pair of slams is pretty cool.  What makes it a geek fest – at least for Tim Kurkjian, anyway – is that on the same night, Tatis himself hit a pinch hit grand slam.  [FoxSports/MLB]

Another of my favorite Marlins, Burke Badenhop, earned a three game suspension for defending Hanley Ramirez.  A few weeks back, Ramirez was beaned a couple of times and felt like his pitchers weren’t backing him up.  This time, when Jeff Weaver plunked Hanley, Badenhop nailed Orlando Hudson in the butt.  In addition to the fine and suspension, Badenhop also received a bunch of high-fives from his teammates.  [FoxSports]

Ten game winner, Kevin Slowey, will require surgery to fix issues with bone chips in his wrist.  Your third place Minnesota Twins are already struggling with a thin rotation, and this isn’t going to help any…  Francisco Liriano (4 – 10, 5.56) – it’s time to step up and be the ace again.  [SI]

Atlanta Braves starter Tim Hudson threw four innings of shutout baseball at Gwinnett last night, signs that his rehab from elbow ligament replacement surgery is going well.  [SI]

My friend, Andy Finch, and I have had discussions about Derek Jeter’s defense.  According to my statistical model, which compares fielders based on the number of plays made per 800 balls in play, over the last three years Jeter’s range has been problematic – which agrees with many other systems of ranking fielding.  An article on MLB.com says that Jeter has spent the last two years improving his lateral movement, and it’s showing up in his range factors, so it will be interesting to see if my systems show the same thing when the year is done.  Personally, this is why you root for a Derek Jeter – he’s constantly working to be the best player he can be.

Another late July trade…  The San Francicso Giants acquired Ryan Garko from Cleveland for minor leaguer Scott Barnes.  The Giants need offense and Garko is a mild upgrade over Travis Ishikawa – mid 20 HR power, a decent batting average and some patience.  Worst case, he platoons with Ishikawa and gives the Giants more depth – especially since Rich Aurilia hasn’t been providing any bench punch and now is injured.  The Indians got a great prospect…  Barnes blew through lower levels, striking out more than a batter an inning with solid control (just 28 walks in 98 innings).  He’s two years away from making the Indians rotation and possibly making a splash.  The Indians have a backload of players who can play first base, and this is a good way to rearrange the talent base.  I like it.  [ESPN]

With Hall of Fame weekend over, MLB looked ahead at who might be part of the class of 2010.  When the ballot is distributed, we’ll look at our options then, but this is a good look-see.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!  Hong-Chih-Kuo returns to the Dodgers bullpen from the 60-day disabled list, costing Blake DeWitt his MLB role.  Tampa welcomed back pitcher Brian Shouse from the DL.  R.J. Swindle is back with Milwaukee – he’s too good for AAA, and hasn’t yet stuck with the parent club.  I’ll keep rooting, though.

Hurry Back!  The Reds sent Micah Owings (tight throwing shoulder) and Chris Dickerson (bruised rotator cuff diving for a ball) to the DL.