This actually happened a few weeks ago, but the Twins released RHPs Philip Humber and R.A. Dickey* (Thanks to Edward Thoma for mentioning the Baseball America Minor League Transactions. Scroll down the page to see the Twins’ transactions). This most likely means that neither pitcher will return to the team, which is very understandable. Also, today the Twins outrighted 1B/3B Brian Buscher off the 40-man roster, which means that his future as a Twin is also in jeopardy.
* This is heavily weighted towards Dickey because I was able to do more fun stuff with his stats. I apologize.
For Dickey, everything started out well. He came to the Twins and made his debut spot starting for Scott Baker, and then caught fire in the middle of the season. From May all the way to his appearance on July 1st, Dickey made 18 appearances over 33.2 innings and compiled an ERA of 1.30 while reaching his season low of 2.30 on June 28th. But rapidly, Dickey regressed back to his career numbers. After July 1st, Dickey had a nauseating 10.13 ERA and was designated for assignment after allowing 3 runs in 0 IP to the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 5th. I’m not going to seriously analyze why Dickey suddenly hit a wall midseason, but a quick and dirty look involves his groundout/flyout ratio and success. From Dickey’s game log we see:
Now a 1.03 GO/FO isn’t necessarily bad for a pitcher (Scott Baker’s is 0.64 for his career), but the difference between a 2.00 and 1.03 GO/FO certainly tells that Dickey was most likely throwing his knuckleball higher in the strike zone. If you’ve listened to Bert Blyleven on FSNorth for half a game, you know that throwing pitches high in the zone is not good, but it’s especially true for a knuckleballer.
One thing that always bothered me was how hard Dickey threw his knuckleball. Depending on where you looked or who you asked, there were several explanations as to why he consistently threw it in the low- to mid-70s. The common explanations seemed to be (both originating from Dickey himself):
1. Since he could still throw a fastball in the mid-80s, he was also capable of throwing a knuckler into the mid-70s.
2. It caused the knuckler to break only twice instead of 3+ times.
Wait, what? The first point is a bit understandable. But making a pitch that relies on fooling hitters with its break have less break seems wrong. If you look at linear weights for Dickey’s knuckleball, it has yet to be an above average pitch in the majors. Now throwing it slower may not fix his problems and make him a better pitcher, but I have to think that it wouldn’t hurt. Plus, adding to the difference in speed between his fastball and knuckler probably would help as well.
I don’t really have much to say on Humber. He did strike out a batter per inning for the Twins in 9 innings this year, and his minor league track record (excluding ’09 in Triple-A) shows that he can be a strikeout pitcher. However, the 9 walks and consistently poor overall numbers have been disheartening. He was good in the low minors when he was with the Mets, but being rushed (only 15 appearances, all starts, below Triple-A) likely hurt him. His loss means that the net gain from the Johan Santana trade has been reduced to Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, and (indirectly) Jon Rauch. The Twins should not consider Humber at all for their future unless it’s just for minor league depth.
I’m really disappointed to see Brian Buscher removed from the 40-man roster. After ’08, I thought that at the very least, he would be a solid contributor to the Twins. But his low ISO (SLG – AVG) (consistently under .100 in the majors, low-.150s is usually the major league average) and ’09’s low batting average would be the cause for his removal.
Buscher did have some above-average power in the minors since coming over from the San Francisco Giants, but he just wasn’t able to translate it to success in the majors. Being a guy that doesn’t excel at any defensive position, whose best positions are blocked by Justin Morneau and the 3B of the future (Valencia? A free agent? Punto??? Just kidding), with a low average and little power really hurt him. BUT, from ’08 to ’09, although Buscher’s AVG decreased .059 points, his OBP INCREASED by .020 points. This may be another case of the Twins undervaluing a player’s ability to get on base. Buscher never really had a solid future for the Twins, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he carries on to have a half-decent career as a backup corner infielder, pinch-hitter that uses his OBP more than his AVG to help the team, or maybe even a full-time starter.