Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Inning.

It pays to have fortitude, intestinal or otherwise. Such as Delmon Young, for example. Yes, he could have lost sleep watching ESPN replay his misguided lunge at the dying fly ball followed by his blank stare at the third base umpire while Mark Teahan circled the bases as Joe Nathan glowered at him for the foolhardy effort at a heroic catch. Then again, maybe he did. Lack of sleep would explain some of his play.

The mistake evidently carried into Wednesday's ballgame and manifested itself in the middle innings. In the bottom of the fourth inning the Twins and Royals were deadlocked at 2-2. Livan had just gotten Tony Pena Jr to fly out to Cuddyer for the first out of the inning. This, of course, is the unexpected results from a batter hitting .164/.185/.205 in the 8th spot. Whether the Royals are philosophically against the sacrifice bunt (understandable since they have been outscored by 54 runs this year) and did not signal it in again or that Pena Jr made the decision on his own to swing away (which is strange because he has bunted 10 times with 4 base hits), whatever the case might be the option to swing with just the one strike and resulting in an unproductive out worked in the Twins favor. True, the danger still remained as the girthy Billy Butler resided at second and the speedy utility man Alberto Callapso was behind Butler at first and the Royals would have the top of the order with two outs remaining but this situation lent itself for a potential double play and Livan Hernandez was quite good at stranding base-runners (75% lob%).

But David DeJesus did what a good left-handed batter should do when he got the first offering from Livan, which was a thigh high fastball on the outer-half of the plate: he lined it to left for Delmon Young. Here's a bit of background on Delmon Young. Last year with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Young logged 1,134 innings in right field and threw out 11 base runners. According to the Fielding Bible, baserunners had the opportunity to advance 130 on plays to Delmon. Only 56 made the decision to advance and did so successfully (43%). Because of this, he was ranked #3 among right fielders for throwing (our very own Michael Cuddyer was #4 despite having more kills). When the Twins acquired Young this past off-season, the consensus was to move him to left where they would utilize both Cuddyer's and Young's arm as the best tandem corner outfielder arms in professional baseball. In 456 innings to date, Young has had 5 kills but 45% of baserunners are successful in their extra base exploits (27 advanced on 58 opportunities). Currently he is ranked 26. So when Delmon Young unleashed a throw from left field of a stadium in the far western portion of the Show-Me-State that split third and home on a frozen rope headed towards Topeka this continued his defensive downward spiral.

The Royals started to pick on him as if he were some kind of exposed nerve. Joey Gathright lofted a fly ball to him to score Callapso from third (who had moved up from second on Young's throwing error). Instead of attempting a play at the plate, Young wisely lobbed the ball into Mike Lamb who had repositioned himself in the same spot he was in a play prior. With two outs and DeJesus moved up to second on the throwing error on Young, Hernandez's left-on-base rate looked at jeopardy. Hernandez went to work on the Royals front-running MVP for the first half of the season in Alex Gordon. Ahead 1-2 to the young third baseman, Hernandez threw a 83 mph fastball up in the zone. Gordon lifted a routine fly ball to Young's direction, a step, maybe two, to his left. There was no indication that anything was wrong. Young seemed to have an eye and a glove on it. Then...he didn't. Gordon's ball hopped along the Kaufman grass as Young gave chase. DeJesus, who was running on contact, scored easily from second and was replaced at the two-bag by Gordon. The Royals had scratched out three runs thanks to the efforts of Delmon Young. Adding the three runs scored from Tuesday night's inside the park home run and Young is now responsible for six Royals runs this series.

But this game is more than just three players. It takes nine to win a ball game (along a handful of bad decisions from the opposing dugout). Certainly Royals manager Trey Hillman was handcuffed because the Twins had forced the Royals on Tuesday to use Ron Mahay (17 pitches), Jimmy Gobble (33 pitches) and closer Joakim Soria (31 pitches) for extended duty effectively rendering them useless on Wednesday. This meant that if necessary in the late innings, the Royals had no left-handed pitching to combat Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau with. But as the innings ticked by, that seemed like and afterthought then a concern. Throughout the game, Zack Greinke looked in control. In his 8 innings of work he had accumulated 8 strike outs (including Gomez and Casilla twice each) and allowed five hits and three earned runs. As Greinke reach 117 pitches through the 8th inning the 5 run lead looked safe. In 20 games this season the Royals have gone into the 8th inning with a lead and had yet to allow for the opposing team to come back, hell with a lead going into the 7th inning the Royals are 18-1. Time to relax and laugh about that silly little nine game losing streak, right?

Hillman reached into his bullpen and produced the 27-year-old Ramon Ramirez. Minus Soria, Ramirez has been the best right-handed reliever for Kansas City. In 21 innings of work, Ramirez has not allowed a home run while not issuing free passes (9% bb%) and striking out batters by the handfuls (29% k%). With Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young both expected up in the 9th it seemed logical to think that Ramirez would be able to match-up well.

Michael Cuddyer is one guy that would like to see a new month. As superstition and arbitrary as it is, the month of May has not been kind to Cuddyer. In 110 plate appearances he is hitting just .214/.287.286 and he is chopping and beating more than half of his balls in to the ground (50%) resulting in a low .263 average on balls in play. Up until this at bat in the top of the ninth, Cuddyer showed no sign of improving his output. In his first at bat he grounded out to second and then he popped out to center and first in his subsequent at-bats. Naturally if you were a Royals fan reading this, you would have no cause for concern. After watching Ramirez's first offering, a 92 mph fastball, go high for a ball, he then let the second go for strike one. The third was dumped foul while the fourth, this time an 89 mph slider, was foul tipped for strike three.

One down.

As Jason Kubel strode to the plate, Trey Hillman maybe felt small pangs of regret. Sure, the lead was large and there were just two small outs left to get, but still this particular circumstance might not have sit right with a veteran manager in the mire of a 9-game losing streak. What Hillman knew was that Rameriz, while nearly unhittable to right-handed batters (.146/.239/.146, zero extra base hits in 46 plate appearances), he was susceptible to the left-handed ones (.297/.350/.378, two extra base hits in 40 plate appearances) and that Kubel hit righties substantially better (.267/.306/.463) than lefties (.176/.237/.176). If he were writing the script, this would not be the match-up Hillman would want. His two left-handed weapons in his bullpen arsenal were forced to watch from the side-lines as Kubel stroked a belt-high fastball through the right-side of the infield for a base hit.

One down, runner on first.

Redemption can be a beautiful thing in baseball. Unfortunately, Delmon Young can offer no salvation for the Twins in the ninth. After coaxing two walks in the earlier innings, Delmon swung out of his shoes on several of Ramirez's 87 mph sliders and ultimately retired himself on a low slider.

Two outs, runner on first.

Now with two outs and a five run lead any kind of Earl Weaveresque type statistical match-up has forsaken Hillman and the Royals as the left-handed batting Mike Lamb takes to the batters box. Like his left-handed brethren in Kubel that proceeded him, Lamb handles right-handed pitching much better (.266/.299/.339 versus .091/.130/.227). On a wild pitch change-up in the dirt, Kubel was given second. His run had little monetary value to the Royals (fractions of a penny). Lamb singled him home on the next pitch, a ground ball through the right side of the infield.

Two outs, runner on first, four run lead.

The fans, or rather the handful of them that a) showed up and b) stuck around this long, appear delirious. They have suffered through a 9-game losing streak and now are poised to finally move on to the next chapter of the season. Little victories mean everything to a franchise that struggles to stay above .500. Like the old Eddie Murphy "Raw" schtick: If you are starving in the desert and someone hands you a cracker, it is the best damn cracker you have ever had. The Twins, meanwhile, have given them back-to-back right-handers to face the hard-throwing Ramirez with just one out remaining. Brendan Harris, the Twins second baseman cum shortstop, has seen his numbers slowly drop from April to May. What's even stranger about Harris is his swing at home and away. In 99 plate appearances on the road Harris had hit fly balls just 28% of the time but in his 87 plate appearances at the Dome, Harris has skied 42% of balls. Here in Kansas City he adds to his road total as a fly ball drops in front of the right fielder Ross Gload.

Two outs, runners on first and second, four run lead.

Carlos Gomez marches to the plate. He is greeted with three straight sliders from Ramirez, two of which bounce in the dirt. As he has done nearly 60% of the time, Carlos Gomez redirects a 92 mph fastball back up the middle, splitting the converging Pena Jr and Callapso. Mike Lamb scores from second reducing the lead to three and bringing up the tying run to the plate.

Two outs, runners on first and second, three run lead.

After twenty pitches and four hits, Hillman had seen enough of Ramirez. Oh how he wished he had his relief ace available, the guy that is kept around for moments just like this. Three pitches or less to send the crowd home with a victory. Soria is not available. Hillman turns to Joel Peralta. Peralta has been one of the more reliable Kansas City relievers and one that has lasted on the roster since 2006. Ron Gardenhire pulled one of the few bench moves he had in Craig Monroe. In his career, Monroe has pinch hit 42 times and hit one home run. Peralta started Monroe off with a 86 mph slider for a ball then poured several 93-94 mph fastballs at various locations around the plate to Monroe - mostly away and then began to work his way inside as the count crept even. On Peralta's sixth offering of his outing, Monroe deposited it into the left field bleacher area to tie the game.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Explain That...

As May nears its climax, we find that the Twins are hovering at the .500 mark. This might be five wins more than the most optimistic preseason predictions held and they continue to defy science (or at least sabermetrics). Through 50 games the Pythagorean Theorem suggests that the Twins should be at 23-27, as they have been outscored 243 to 227. In April (and the one March game) the Twins finished the month 13-14 allowing 122 runs while scoring 102 - 20 runs worse than their opponents. Up to this point in May the Twins are 12-11 as they have allowed 121 runs and have managed to score 125, playing slightly better than their competition justifying the winning record. What this says is that while the pitching staff has been status quo in the two months, the offense has been able to manufacture 19 additional runs in four less games in May (with four remaining in the month).

How can this be? How can the Twins have improved by 19 runs? In full disclosure the Twins could actually be almost 27 runs better than their opponents had their not been so many defensive lapses. In 50 games last month, the Twins pitchers' relinquished just 8 unearned runs. This month in 23 games the Twins pitchers have been dinged for 18 unearned runs. Some, such as Patrick Ruesse, would like you to believe that the home run total is the barometer for the franchise and that because several key members are without home runs this team must be a failure. True, the -16 run differential can be attributed some to being out homered 29-to-56 but the offense compensates with a combination of speed (the 77% stolen base rate has led to 2.2 runs according to the formula presented in The Hidden Game of Baseball) and well-timed hits (the Twins have 78 rbis with 2-outs and runners in scoring position while opponents have scored just 61 in the same circumstances) has resulted in tipping the balance towards the Twins in several critical games.

Who are some of these main contributors?

1) Jason Kubel: Kubel's month of May is strikingly similar to the August/September performance of last season. He has increased his plate discipline (6 walks vs. 3 walks) and also his contact (strikeout rate cut in half) from April. Another factor that has led to an increased batting line is that he has decreased his amount of fly balls in play and started to hit more line drives across the field and just like that his babip improves from .250 to .300. Expect more May type results from Kubel as the calender turns to June.

Plate Appearances HR ISOP BB% K% GB% LD% AVG OBP SLG
April 100 4 .136 3% 20% 39% 14% .229 .250 .365
May 56 2 .229 12.5% 10.7% 39% 22% .292 .364 .521

2) Delmon Young: Sure, no home runs yet but has improved in just about every other category, including increasing his walk rate and reducing the strike outs that he was so apt to do last month, last season and in the minor leagues. Is this a new Delmon? To this point this season Young has taken 46% of pitches thrown to him. Last season he watched 38% of pitches. With Tampa Bay in 2007, Delmon's most patient month was also May were he posted a 9.2% walk rate (but he teamed that with a 20% strikeout rate). I would suspect that it is still too early to tell if this is an improved Delmon or a statistical blip. One glaring difference is that he is hitting too many groundballs for a supposed power-hitting (leading to a .235/.235/.265 babip). He must improve the type of ball he is putting in play, that being line drives: last year he finished knocking 20% of his balls for line drives. This season he is hitting just 14% for liners. Also, forget about criticizing him for opposite field hitting - he's batting .400/.400/.560 on balls taken to the right side of the field.

Plate Appearances HR ISOP BB% K% GB% LD% AVG OBP SLG
April 104 0 .051 5.8% 18.3% 62% 14% .255 .298 .306
May 98 0 .103 10.2% 12.2% 65% 15% .276 .351 .379

3) Joe Mauer: Blessed with a better batting eye in the month of May, Mauer walked more and struck out less but what is most impressive is that he has peppered the field with more line drives (24% over 15%) leading to a batting average on balls in play from a hefty .325 in April to gargantuan .424 in May. Suffice it to say, I'd predict a downturn in June simply because it is hard to maintain a hit rate encroaching on 50% for balls put into play - eventually some start finding leather. There is plenty of talk about Mauer rediscovering his opposite field stroke (he is hitting .469 that direction). This is good because he has been absolutely terrible at pulling the ball: On 34 balls in play Joe has had only 6 successful hits, carrying a .176 average on balls to the right side (though he did hit .300 that direction last year). The talking heads on FSN like to reiterate that he has resurrected the swing that won him the batting title in 2006 even though Mauer had a .311 pull average that season.

Plate Appearances HR ISOP BB% K% GB% LD% AVG OBP SLG
April 96 0 .095 10.4% 7.3% 59% 15% .298 .358 .393
May 88 0 .055 17.0% 6.8% 39% 24% .398 .483 .444

4) Carlos Gomez: The strikeouts are still as prominent as ever but the walks (25 versus 23) have begun to creep northward (2 versus 5). Nevertheless, Gomez is on-base 35% of the time giving the Twins every opportunity to drive him a feat which they have accomplished 27 times - led by Joe Mauer's 8 rbi.

Plate Appearances HR ISOP BB% K% GB% LD% AVG OBP SLG
April 100 1 .101 1.0% 24.0% 51% 13% .253 .260 .352
May 88 3 .185 5.7% 26.1% 46% 16% .296 .352 .481

4) Mike Lamb: Truthfully, there was no where else to go but up or out. Thankfully for the Lamb household he improved statistically across the board (offensively at least, he is still suspect with the glove), buying a few more weeks as a starting third baseman. He has 20 rbis but should be sending Delmon Young a nice thank you gift for being on-base for him, as 8 of those rbis has been Mr. Young himself.

Plate Appearances HR ISOP BB% K% GB% LD% AVG OBP SLG
April 81 0 .079 2.5% 11.1% 44% 14% .197 .210 .276
May 72 1 .185 9.7% 13.9% 33% 17% .302 .352 .397

Despite what some naysayers would like you to believe, the Twins have improved their overall offense in the second month. In 979 plate appearances in April, Twins batters hit 14 home runs with 98 rbis while hitting .260/.305/.362 - a fairly average batting line. In the second month, the Twins have accumulated 909 plate appearances and have improved on their home runs mark (15), rbis (118) and have hit significantly better overall: .273/.342/.404. The Twins have coerced 30 more walks this month than the previous one as well as striking out 24 times less. Naturally, the Twins cannot continue at the pace set in April. A team has to outscore its opponents over the course of a 162-game schedule in order to achieve above .500 baseball. To sustain an edge in the American League Central, the Twins will have to have improvement from other key players (Cuddyer, Monroe, Harris). If April showers bring May flowers, May flowers better bring June extra base hits.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Home run pitcher, meet home run hitter

As the Twins climbed back to a 7-7 tie in the 8th inning, manager Ron Gardenhire dispatched one of the league’s elite relievers in Joe Nathan and asked him to retire the five (Murphy), six (Laird) and seven (Byrd) hitters for Texas in the top of the ninth. This is obviously not the most critical of situations yet it was a pivotal place in the game so as not to succumb to the potent Ranger offense – even if they were not the most potent of the Texas lineup. The thought process of the Twins skipper must have been that the Twins had to hold the visitors here and attempt to eek out the winning run with his two bench maneuvers (Mauer and Kubel) and his weakest hitting starter (Lamb). When David Murphy reached on a single to open the inning, it was apparent that Nathan’s pitch count was going to rise. Nathan eliminated both Laird and Byrd on strikeouts but had Murphy reach scoring position at second with a stolen base (his fourth of the year). With first base open, Gardy decided to have Nathan intentionally walk the left-handed batting Ramon Vazquez in order to face the right-handed batting Chris Shelton.

Admittedly the decision to walk Vazquez was merited. In the past two weeks Vazquez has been hitting the ball extremely well. In his 39 plate appearances over the last 14 days, the 31-year-old left-handed batting utility infielder had been hitting .438/.513/.563 (despite being just 2-for-7 with two walks in his two games in the series thus far). On the season the majority of his playing time has come against right-handed pitcher - whom he thrived off of, feasting on them at a .342/.417/.493 clip. Putting Vazquez on first also produced a force at all the bases. Then again, Nathan actually has been more effective against lefties this year. In 38 match-ups against left-handed batters, Nathan has managed to strikeout 12 of them and holding them to a .200/.263/.314 batting line. It is reasonable to believe that Nathan could have won that battle. Thankfully, Texas manager Ron Washington ultimately decided to test that theory when he substituted the switch-hitting Jarrod Saltalamacchia in for Chris Shelton.

Nathan beared down on Saltalamacchia. So far during the season, Nathan has been a two-pitch pitcher to left-handed batters fastball (71%) and slider (21%). Nathan began by pumping three straight 95-96 mph fastballs to Saltalamacchia, all called balls. Nathan made the necessary adjustments and put two within the zone for strikes. Armed with the knowledge that within Nathan's repertoire was a very dominant slider that he had used frequently to obtain a strike out, the 22-year-old Saltalamacchia - a hitter that has been alternatively both patient (21% bb%) and strikeout prone (25% k%) this season - must have had his head swirling at 3-2 with the go-ahead run in Murphy on second. Would the veteran closer be crafty enough to drop a 3-2 slider on the highly-touted sophomore? No, Nathan opted for power and came with a letter-high 96 mph fastball that Saltalamacchia would chase for the third out, stranding Murphy and the Rangers in the ninth.

The focus then switched back to the offense, one that had not scored a ton of runs in the ninth inning. Runs have been difficult to come by for the Twins in the later innings. In 33 games the Twins batters have scored just 10 runs in 139 plate appearances in the ninth. Gardenhire used his first bench move to pinch hit Joe Mauer for Craig Monroe who had been 0-4 up until that point. Using Mauer first was a good move for several reasons. First, Mauer had been hitting .375/.385/.417 in his last 26 plate appearances. Secondly, Mauer has led off innings extremely well so far this season. Leading off 31 times in 2008, Mauer had drawn five walks and hit four of his ten doubles. According to Bill James Online, when Mauer leads off the inning the Twins have scored 0.42 runs that inning. When Mauer reaches base leading off the Twins score 0.93 runs (for reference, Gomez contributes more than a run at 1.75 when he reachs) however when Joe Mauer gets out the Twins have failed to score a run at all that inning. It would be a critical 90 feet to gain but the probability was in the Twins favor: Mauer, a player that reaches base over 40% of the time, facing the right-handed Joaquin Benoit, a hard-throwing former closer that has walked 15% of batters faced and has had 34% of his opponents reach base.

The outcome of the match-up was something that rarely occured when Joe Mauer stepped in the batters box: he struck out (only 7% of the time). Benoit buried a 93-mph hour fastball for a called strike and then swapped the speed for tomfoolery as he froze Joe with an 83-mph change-up. Up until this afternoon the Twins catcher had seen an 0-2 count just 10 times in his 171 plate appearances in 2008. What's more is that he only struck out once on the count that tips heavily towards the pitcher's favor. Benoit stayed with the change-up, one that was bound for the dirt, and Mauer did something that only happened 19 times all season out of 243 swings: he missed. Gerald Laird blocked the ball and tossed Mauer out at first to complete the strikeout. If you believe that statistics are a guiding principle in baseball, the Twins were in for a disappointing inning predetermined by the fact that the Twins have failed to score a run in innings that Mauer leads off and does not reach base.

Gardy then deployed Jason Kubel to hit for Mike Redmond. The confidence in Jason Kubel had waned toward the end of April among the Twins faithful and press. The once lauded Kubel sputtered at the plate in the first month of the season, finishing with a 3% walk rate while striking out in 20% of his plate appearances. The four home runs, while noteworthy, were overshadowed by his inability to get on base. In 100 plate appearances that month, Kubel had reached base just 25% of the time. This led to a disappointing batting line of .229/.250/.365 for the month. As the calender turned to May, Kubel has once again regained presence at the plate. In 46 plate appearance so far in May, Kubel has found his patience and batting eye walking 11% of the time and reducing his strikeouts to 13%. For the month Kubel is batting .275/.333/.475. Like Mauer before him, Kubel had been hitting .333/.474/.400 in the past week. Digging in with a greater amount of concentration this month, Kubel drew a one-out, four-pitch walk from Benoit.

This, of course, brought up the 2008 whipping boy. There isn't a whole lot of statistical explanation for the significant decline in Mike Lamb's production. One difference between his 2007 experience with Houston and his 2008 tenure with the Twins is that he is putting the ball in play in a manner that lends itself for far more outs: fly balls. In 2007, Mike Lamb hit fly balls in 38% of the balls put in play. Currently nearly 50% of his balls in play have been skied. The other difference, naturally, is that of the 102 balls that were airborne in 2007, 10% resulted in a home run. The lack of home runs is definitely a glaring problem but the underlying problem isn't the ends, but it is the means. After hitting 42% of the balls in the air in April, Lamb has regressed in May hitting flyballs 56% of the time. This time though, Lamb did not lift a routine flyball to a Rangers outfielder. This time Mike Lamb chased a Benoit change-up for strike three.

Alexi Casilla, a player that is frequently viewed somewhere between prospect and an afterthought trivia answer to the question Who the Twins received from the Angels in the JC Romero trade, has found himself on the major league roster thanks to injuries to all of the middle infielders. His minor league numbers are somewhat difficult to interpret. In A and high-A, Casilla hit very well for both Cedar Rapids and Ft Myers. Even in 199 plate appearances in double-A New Britain Casilla played well enough to think that he was Luis Castillo's long-term replacement. Yet a move to triple-A and an introduction to major league pitching in 2007 was abysmal and only planted seeds of doubt within the minds of the fans. In the past four games, Casilla has emerged as a decent contributor with the bat. He has batted .273/.308/.545 and slugged his first major league home run, a three-run shot, while amassing six rbis to boot. Benoit fed the left-handed batting Casilla three straight fastballs before dropping a 85-mph change-up that Casilla fended off foul. The fifth pitch, another fastball, Casilla flied to Marlon Byrd in center.

Gardenhire's offensive maneuvers did not pay-off and now he was forced to make another difficult decision, one that had been presented to him just two days prior. On Monday as Joe Nathan finished the 10th inning with just five pitches, Gardy decided to use Juan Rincon to open the 11th inning instead of his elite reliever. Rincon walked two batters while getting only one out. This resulted in Rincon having to be lifted for Bobby Korecky who had to rescue him. For all intents and purposes, that move ended up being one of the best moves Gardenhire had made to date as Korecky ultimately scored the game winning run as well. However, similar to his decision to replace Nathan after five pitches on Monday night, Gardy traded Nathan for Brian Bass to begin the top of the 10th. While there are some differences between Monday's game and Thursday's. For one, on Monday Nathan threw only 5 pitches and the sixth, seventh and eighth hitters were coming up for Texas making it less than critical for your relief ace. Meanwhile Thursday afternoon Nathan threw 25 pitches in the ninth while the following inning had the Rangers first, second and third hitter. The last being masher Josh Hamilton, the best hitting in the American League right now. If there was ever a need for a relief ace, it would be to face the top of an order.

Brian Bass has been the mop-up guy for the Twins, the team has given him the opportunity to cut his teeth in low leverage situations. Batters are hitting him fairly well in those circumstances as well, batting .280/.368/.473 with three home runs. On Tuesday he finished where Glen Perkins had left off in the seventh inning, tossing 2.2 innings, striking out 2 and giving up one run most likely giving Gardenhire a false sense of security. Bass has given up five home runs in 29 innings of work, an absurd 21.5% of the flyballs hit off of him reach the seats.


Bass, not necessarily a strikeout pitcher (9.0% k%), whiffed both Ian Kinsler and Michael Young to start the 10th. This left just Josh Hamilton to circumvent. This presented several problems for Bass. For starters in his last six games, Hamilton had hit three home runs while batting .560/.577/1.000. He loved to elevate the ball. Hamilton destroys right-handed pitchers, hitting 9 of his 11 home runs off of them and slugging .630. He is the epitome of a dangerous hitter. This begs the question: Why is Brian Bass asked to retire him?

If Gardenhire is protective of Nathan, why wasn't Dennys Reyes used? Reyes, the Twins version of a LOOGY, last pitched on Monday during the 12-inning marathon game. In the 8th inning while staring down the prospect of facing Josh Hamilton, Gardenhire removed Matt Guerrier for the lefty-lefty match-up. Reyes struck out Hamilton. Unfortunately the switch-hitting Milton Bradley followed with a double and left-handed David Murphy singled him home resulting in a blown save. Still, Reyes has had left-handed batters baffled as in 33 match-ups opponents are only hitting .219/.242/.250 striking out 15% of the time too. Mostimportantly, Reyes is the only member of the pitching staff to not have surrendered a home run.

This gross mismanagement of the bullpen - twice this week - has resulted in one win (that required the first pitcher hit in an American League game since the 1970s) and one loss.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Best Laid Plans.

According to the Hardball Times the Twins infielders are 12 out of 14 teams in the American League in revised zone rating at .765.

Infield RZR Infield Out Of Zone
1) Oakland Athletics .831 46
2) Toronto Blue Jays .817 65
12) Minnesota Twins .765 31
13) Detroit Tigers .756 51
14) Seattle Mariners .753 61
League Average .784 51

Only the aging Detroit Tigers (.756) and the American League West cellar-dwelling Seattle Mariners (.753) infields have found themselves executing less plays than the Minnesota Twins. This, of course, is reasonable in the case of the Tigers who have played musical position with Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen at the corner bases. The Tigers started the stone-legged Cabrera at third to begin the season. It was there in 116 innings that Cabrera held a RZR of .600, bad enough to incite Jim Leyland to swap him with Carlos Guillen at first base. Moved across the diamond Guillen's difference was negligible as he had produced at RZR of .667 in 143 innings. Out west the Seattle Mariners have the putrid Richie Sexson (.673 RZR) who is playing first as Jose Vidro mans the designated hitter role. Across the field from Sexson, Andre Beltre is having a substandard season as well (.651 RZR) already committing 8 errors in 386 innings however he has gloved 29 balls out of zone, by far the most by a third baseman.

Though the Twins have completed more anticipated plays than just the Tigers or Mariners, it is the unexpected ones that have been absent. As a unit, the Twins infield has managed only to track down 31 balls out of zone. Even Detroit (51 ooz) and Seattle (61) are outpacing the Twins. The 31 plays made out of zone is 33 less than the league leading Tampa Bay Rays and 20 less than the league average. Being able to track an additional 20-30 balls in plays would have eliminated 20 to 30 base-runners which of course lead to subsequent runs. Limiting opponents' presence on base also benefits the Twins pitching staff who have the highest home runs per game allowed (1.1) in the American League. As obvious as it is, multi-run home runs do more damage than solo home runs.

As bad as Guillen, Cabrera and Beltre have been, Lamb by far is the most inefficient at third. At the plate, Lamb has a .518 ops. Comparatively, Beltre (.760), Guillen (.790) and Cabrera (.824) are all carrying their weight at the plate. At the plate as he continues failing to live up to lofty offensive expectations, but on the field he exacerbates the problem. Lamb had 75 balls within his zone and has only been able to convert outs on 42 of them. Consider that the current Fielding Bible from Bill James Online has Lamb is currently ranked 32 of all starting third basemen. Based upon the Plus/Minus grading system, Lamb is graded as a -7 when making plays to his right (towards the foul line), +1 with balls straight on and -1 ranging to his left (towards short). This isn't exactly news as the Twins understood what they had purchased.'s Kelly Theiser wrote in January 2008 that "the questions concerning Lamb's range at third were enough to have some teams back off pursuing the veteran for a starting role this winter. Some teams, like the Rangers, weren't even looking at him for the position at all, but rather as an option for first base." There are several similar internal candidates that could replicate the same defense as Lamb such as Brian Buscher and Matt Macri (or at least provide more offense) but neither of those two candidates play exceptional defense.

Minnesota Twins' Mike Lamb reacts after striking out swinging with runners on first and third base on a pitch from Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Brian Fuentes to end the ninth inning of the Rockies' 3-2 victory in an interleague Major League Baseball game on Saturday, May 17, 2008, in Denver.

The contract offered to Adam Everett came with plenty of of unknowns. For starters, the Twins would have no idea how a 31-year-old shortstop would recover from a broken leg. Now Everett is experiencing shoulder problems diminishing his ability to throw across the diamond, which makes him particularly vulnerable during the double-play or ranging to his right (compensating for Lamb's lack of range). The Fielding Bible has indicated that Everett has had 20 opportunities to turn a double-play and has only done so in 10 of those occasions (.500, ranked 28th among shortstops). Ranging to his right, Everett has a -3 grading making the hole between third and short exposed when Lamb and Everett are on the field. The Twins, however, cannot go to the well to replace Adam Everett with a Jason Bartlett as they did to remove Juan Castro in 2006 - there isn't one there, at least one not major league ready (sorry, Alexi).

DENVER - MAY 18:  Shortstop Adam Everett #12 of the Minnesota Twins commits an error as he misses a pop fly by Willy Taveras the Colorado Rockies in the eighth inning during Interleague MLB action at Coors Field on May 18, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Twins 6-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

"I hope we don't have to deal with something like that again," Manager Ron Gardenhire said after Sunday's game against the Rockies. "Missing pop flies and failures to get runners in and executing, the whole package. A disappointing baseball game... Dropping throws to first base. I don't know how you prepare for all those things. We're not used to seeing those things. It's embarrassing for our organization and for our fans." Gardenhire had designs on relocating Brendan Harris to third and inserting Matt Tolbert at second thereby upgrading the defensive alignment. This, of course, was thrown out the window when Tolbert dislodged his left thumb from his hand so the Twins are forced to soldier on with their original plan.

This development, in spite of Gardy's quote, should not be a surprise to no one in this organization. During the onset of the season the idea was that Lamb and Harris were brought in to upgrade the lineup: high-quality defense would be conceded to adding runs at the plate. Everett was going to be the sure-handed glove to bridge third and second, that any offense that he would generate would be a bonus. With this game plan in mind the Twins entered 2008 hoping to score more runs than they defend. To date, this plan has yet to come to fruition.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Notebook Dump (5.17.08)

Game: Twinks 4, Rox 2

Box Score

Record: 21-20

Place: 2nd, 0.5 back


* Nick Blackburn continues to show poise of a much more experienced pitcher, tossing seven innings at Coors and limiting the Rockies to six hits and two runs. Finishing with a Game Score of 63, Blackburn struck out five Rockies and did not allow anyone to reach on a walk. Blackburn also went 1-3 at the plate after slipping a chopper between third baseman Garrett Atkins and Clint Barmes.

* Delmon Young had his 13th multi-hit game of the season however this was the first time he has had a multi-extra base hit game all season after his two doubles. Going into the Colorado series, Young was batting .263/.309/.296. The 3-4 night lifted his numbers to .276/.319/.321. Over the last five games Young is 7-for-23, batting .304/.360/.391. Even without the power, it is hard to sit him. After committing a fatal base running gaff against Toronto when he rounded the base too hard only to be thrown out by Brad Wilkerson from mid-right field when catcher Greg Zaun trailed Young up the line. His overzealous basepath behavior ended up killing a potential rally. Friday Young made a wise decision, tagging up from second to third on a Mike Lamb flyball to the left-center gap. With Adam Everett up and Nick Blackburn in the hole with one-out Young had enough presence to realize that scoring from second would be difficult-to-impossible. Everett came into the game batting .190 and Blackburn just had his first at-bat since high school a few innings prior. When Everett lofted a deep flyball to left-fielder Ryan Spilborghs, Young trotted home resulting in the difference making run. "That was a good bit of baserunning," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He read it, got back, tagged up and got there."

* MEDIC! Matt Tolbert is the latest Twins causality with a torn ligament in his left thumb. Currently they have Tolbert on the 15-day DL but with that kind of trauma, it should be anticipated that Tolbert will miss more time then just the two weeks. As LaValle notes, the Twins system is depleted in middle infielders. Luke Hughes and Matt Macri are both recovering from injuries of their own while journeyman infielder Chris Basak isn't performing to snuff (.221/.309/.337 in 86 at-bats). Aside from reaching down to grab Hughes from New Britain, the Twins also had Trevor Plouffe and Steven Tolleson hitting .290/.338/.427 and .302/.408/.519 respectively. Tolleson had a rough stretch where he was batting .139 after a 0-for-19 mid-April slump. Since then he has raised his average to .302 and was named Eastern League player of the week (May 11th). Instead of taking a gamble on the 22-year-old and 24-year-old raw energy prospects at double-A, the Twins opted for the 34-year-old Howie Clark who is batting .240/.303/.354 while playing 26 games at second base. Clark is a career .282/.356/.402 minor league hitter and in 335 major league plate appearances, Clark has hit .262/.331/.354 with Toronto and Baltimore.

* Because the Twins recalled Alexi Casilla to replace the injured Nick Punto as the spare utility part, Rochester was so thin that the Twins picked up the 24-year-old Sergio Santos from the Toronto Blue Jays. Santos has spent his minor league career split between the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays organization. Santos played the majority of the 2008 season at triple-A Syracuse logging 224 innings at third base committing 5 errors (.906 fielding percentage) in that duration. Last year while with the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Santos hit 20 home runs in 479 at-bats and slugged .477. A career .249/.307/.396 minor league hitter, the logic behind acquiring Santos is strictly a roster-filler.

* Livan Hernandez, 2nd in the American League with 9 home runs surrendered, will have to work hard to keep the ball in the park at Coors. Over his career, Hernandez has tossed 74.1 innings and give up 11 home runs and has a 6.78 era there. Looking to continue providing the Twins with wins so long as the offense continues to provide it (6.63 runs per game), and Hernandez might be able to assist in that department. He is one of the few Twins pitchers that is novice with a bat. In 887 career plate appearances, Hernandez has hit 9 home runs with 73 rbis and maintains a career .232/.241/.314 batting line.

* Twins face the touted Gregory Reynolds, the Rockies 1st round draft pick in 2006. Armed with a 90.7 mph fastball and a 78 mph curve (a 12 mph difference) the 6'7", 220-lb Reynolds made a rapid climb from high-A ball in 2006 to triple-A to begin this season to being called up to the big club. Reynolds has only logged 133 innings in the minors carrying a 2.98 era and 1.20 whip. His peripheral numbers are not overwhelming as indicated by a 14.6% strike out rate but he throws strikes as highlighted by his low 5.8% walk rate.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Notebook Dump

Game: Blue Jays 3, Twinks 2 (11 innings)

Box Score

Record: 20-20

Place: 2nd, 1.5 gb

* There is plenty of indication that the Twins lost these games by their own boneheadery notably base-running gaffs, overthrows and strange managerial options (Casilla? Really?), but don’t forget to give credit to the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff, possibly the best in the American League. Jesse Litsch, Roy Halladay and Dustin McGowen combined with an average Game Score of 52 in those three games – Halladay was by far the worst of the three by giving up 4 runs in 6.2 innings yet he still struck out 8 and didn’t issue a walk. The Blue Jay bullpen only gave up 2 earned runs. On the whole, the staff limited the Twins to 2-for-19 (.105) with runners in scoring position.

* Souhan picks on the obvious, power outage by Delmon Young, Mike Lamb and Joe Mauer without stating that the numbers are down across the board in the American League. Young isn't that far removed from his production through the first 40 games last year. In 167 plate appearances with the Devil Rays in 2007 Young hit 6 home runs, 6 doubles, drove in 22 runs and hit .244/.287/.397 while striking out 35 times and walking 10. Through the first 40 games in 2008, Young has 162 plate appearances with 3 doubles, 1 triple, no home runs and has driven in 12. The power is down though he is getting on base more hitting .263/.309/.296, walking 9 times and striking out nine times fewer. Sure the power isn't there yet but it is only a matter of time before it starts clicking.

* I thought it was the more memorable of the Twins commercials to date and I have found myself actually singing the lyrics on occasion to anyone within earshot's dismay, but the NY Times Bats Blog considers it a “goofy commercial” (true) with “terrible pitching-centric lyrics” (debatable). Okay, I still don't understand the Crain-Rincon part where they sing: "You need outs? We get you more." Is that what is said? "More"?

* The Ballad of Lenny Faedo. I love thinking about the bad-old days, thanks to Tony, The Killer and Carew for reminding us.

* Speaking of dark times in the Twins history, tomorrow is the 10-year anniversary of David Wells’ perfect game (a Game Score of 98) over the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium. If you looked at that day’s lineup, one might be inclined to consider it a perfect-game waiting to happen. Surprisingly enough, Twins starter Latroy Hawkins actually threw fairly well. Over the course of seven innings, Hawkins struck out 5 and didn’t walk anyone. Unfortunately for Hawkins though the Twins offense were nowhere near touching the slightly hungover Wells (11 strikeouts) and once Bernie Williams, after hitting a double to lead off the 2nd inning, scored on a Hawkins wild pitch to Jorge Posada the game was all but over. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence as Hawkins who was 9th in the majors with 10 wild pitches that season. Late in the 4th Bernie deposited a pitch into the seats as well just to make sure the Twins wouldn't get any designs on sneaking in a run. Williams, who went three for three that game, scored three of the four runs.

* Seth Speaks has a good interview with Brian Dinkelman that you should read. This past winter, I spent time analyzing the Twins minor league system to determine who had the highest increase in walk rate. Dinkelman, who went from a walk rate of 4.7% in 2006 to a walk-rate of 11.5% in 2007, had the largest increase among players with regular playing time in the system. The impressive part is that he did this while ascending levels too; the majority tends to better themselves after an initial year at one level. In 2006 he had 211 plate appearances with Elizabethton in the Appalachian Rookie League where he walked 10 times. The following year Dinkelman split 570 plate appearances between low-A Beloit and high-A Ft Myers where he walked 66 times. This 11.5% walk rate led to an on-base percentage of .367. As I had mentioned in December when I originally wrote the piece, Dinkelman faces the problem of being older than his competition. This age discrepancy often makes people question the validity of a prospect’s ability - meaning that Dinkelman hasn’t been challenged yet. This season, placed again back at high-A Ft. Myers he has replicated his numbers (11.8% walk rate) but also has lowered his strike out rate (from 13.5% in 07 to 8.2% currently). What’s more is that in 170 plate appearances he has a 24% line drive rate resulting a .319/.417/.438 batting line, significantly better than his first season in the Florida State League’s batting line of .255/.356/.389. The problem is that Dinkelman, now 24, is two years older than the average batter in the league (22.9) and a year older than the pitching (23.4). If the Twins are serious about Dinkelman, once they promote Luke Hughes to Rochester (which should happen quite soon) they should insert Dinkelman into Hughes’s New Britain roster spot.

* Vanquish any concern that once existed about sneaking Garrett Jones through the waivers at the end of spring training. As it stands right now, Jones is batting .177/.229/.300 in his 144 plate appearances. His three home runs are overshadowed by the fact that he is not hitting the ball squarely. His line drive rate is at 12% while he is hitting groundballs in excess of 50%. Yes he has shown that he has a strong swing, belting 126 career minor league home runs in 3,127 at-bats and maintaining a .434 career slugging percentage but his near 800 career strikeouts was a detriment to his on-base percentage (.301 career obp). Ultimately he is probably on his swansong with the Twins organization as plenty of talent is amassing in double-A and high-A.

* How many times will Bert Blyleven mention Coors Light during the Rockies series? Over-under?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

2008: 1st Quarter Review

A quarter of the season has passed us by and the Twins rest uncomfortably in second place of American League Central, trailing the charging Cleveland Indians by a half-game. A year ago through 40 games the Twins were 18-22, 7 games back of the division leading Cleveland Indians following a 0-2 Johan Santana loss to the Indians and Fausto Carmona. Oddly enough, in 2006 the Twins were 17-23 and found themselves nine and a half games behind the Detroit Tigers after a 0-2 Johan Santana loss to the Tigers and flame-throwing Justin Verlander. Obviously both 2007 and 2006 yielded two completely different results even though record-wise both teams seemed to be riding the same track. The former squad finished 79-83, 17 games behind the Cleveland Indians, while the latter finished 96-66, first in division by one game. Nevertheless winning early puts yourself in a better position as the season progresses.

What we can say is that this ballclub is both overachieving and underachieving simultaneously. Using the Pythagorean Theorem the Twins should be 19-20, muddling around third in the division. Thankfully baseball doesn't follow mathematical logic. Instead the Twins have managed to steal a wins resulting in the 20-19 record rather than sinking to the bottom of the division with the Kansas City Royals. There are several key factors for why the Twins have started strong ranging from the starting rotation to filling in positions with the right people. Conversely, several decisions such as recalling Francisco Liriano too soon and the underproduction of several players have led to the Twins losing some critical games as well.

Gone right:

* Livan Hernandez. I wrote prior to the season that I was not in support of this signing due to a) Hernandez’s Opponents Batting Record including the National League leading home runs given up, b) the fact that he hasn’t pitched in the American League and c) the Twins have some outstanding pitchers in the system that should get the opportunity. The signing, to me, reeked of a Ramon Ortiz repeat. Now after a quarter of a season of starts, Hernandez sits at 6-1 with a 3.90 era and the Twins are 8-1 in his starts. Most importantly, he has managed to digest 57 innings as the rotation has gone through the ebb and flow of injuries to Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey in addition to the ill-prepared Francisco Liriano, has been a godsend to the Twins. There certainly are signs that the next quarters of the season might not go as smoothly as this first portion considering Hernandez is 2nd in the American League for home runs allowed (9) and hits allowed (72) but he has limited damage by having the 7th best overall base-on-balls per 9 innings (1.72). Credit the Twins offense as well as they are giving him plenty of run support per game (6.62) which helps his record.

Minnesota Twins' Livan Hernandez throws against the Boston Red Sox in the first inning of a baseball game Monday, May 12, 2008, in Minneapolis.

* Carlos Gomez in centerfield. In February, I had promoted using Jason Pridie at center strictly because he was the more polished of the minor leagues in competition for the job. Offense aside, I believed that a position as demanding as center requires additional seasoning. Like my assumption of Livan Hernandez, I have been wrong thus far. According to John Dewan's Fielding Bible on Bill James Online, Carlos Gomez is +5 in centerfield leading the Majors in defense at that position making Twins fans say cliche things like "Torii who?" (nobody says that). In 209 inning logged at center Gomez had posted the 10th best revised zone rating (.928) significantly better than the former centerfield (.862) while retrieving 23 balls out-of-zone, good enough for 2nd in the Majors. Gomez's fielding percentage took a ding (.958, last among qualified centerfielders) due to five errors due mostly to inexperience coupled with unbridled enthusiasm for his own arm strengthen (three throwing errors).

Minnesota Twins center fielder Carlos Gomez can't make the catch on a double by Chicago White Sox's Carlos Quentin during the first inning of a baseball  game, Thursday, May 8, 2008, in Chicago.

* The Emergence of Nick Blackburn. If you just look at the statistics and not the names, you would think that Nick Blackburn and Carlos Silva were interchangeable. The obvious similarity is that they both have a 3-2 record after 8 starts. Blackburn has thrown 50 innings to Silva's 52 however both are ruthlessly efficient (Blackburn uses 3.4 pitches per plate appearance while Silva deploys 3.6) with great control, using a sinking fastball to induce groundballs (Blackburn's 48% to Silva's 45%) while maintaining insanely low walk-rates (4.7% by Blackburn and 5.0% by Silva). Neither strikes that many batters out (Blackburn's 11.6% k% to Silva's 9.1%). But neither gives up too many runs either(Blackburn 4.11 runs per game to Silva's 4.33). The difference is that Blackburn is pitching better (3.38 FIP to Silva's 4.53) with few home runs (2 to 6) but significantly more affordable (The Twins are paying Blackburn league minimum $390,000 while the Mariners are paying Silva $7 million). The Mariners are paying and possibly overpaying for the piece-of-mind that Silva provides thanks to his averaging 170 innings per season however it is safe to say that so far in 2008 the Twins hardly notice the Chief's absence.

* Resigning Joe Nathan. 12 for 12 in save opportunities is why he is paid the big bucks. These aren't your inflated Todd Jones-type saves either. Six of those saves came in games with a one-run lead and another three came with a two-run lead. His most recent outing against Boston where he gave up two runs before recording the save skewed his numbers yet his .239/.271/.261 average with 11 strikeouts in 12 innings in save opportunities.

Gone awry:

* Power outages from Delmon Young and Mike Lamb. Through the first 40 games, both Young and Lamb have failed to hit a home run despite hitting in double-digits last year (13 and 11, respectively). In the American League this absences of home runs with at least 110 plate appearances puts them in the company of such sluggers named Pena Jr, Figgins, Lugo and Grudzielanek – guys who hit a combined 19 home runs last year. The only legitimate power threat without a home run is the Indians Victor Martinez who hit 25 home runs last year and has not yet hit a dinger in 145 plate appearances this year (but still has a .407 slugging average). When the Twins signed Houston Astros Mike Lamb during the offseason, they did so under the premise that Lamb would continue his power production at the Metrodome. Part of the Twins 2007 problem was that the offensive productivity was far from a power source in positions that were historically filled by sluggers, such as third base. In 2007, the Twins third basemen collectively hit 6 home runs and slugged .323 (lower than the shortstop at .334). Presenting Lamb with the possibility of 500 plate appearances in a season could result in 15-20 from a third base position if you extrapolate his numbers. While in Houston in 2007, Lamb hit 11 home runs in 353 plate appearances (3.1% hr%). To date in 2008, Lamb has not hit well – power or no power. In 117 plate appearances Lamb has hit .231/.259/.287 with six extra base hits. Young, meanwhile, is slugging .299 – down more than 100 points from his .408 season last year. His Hitting for Power, according to the Bill James Online, is in the 8th percentile among MLB right fielders as his isolated slugging average, it hovers at .035. He has just four extra base hits (10% xbh) in 154 plate appearances. Some claim that this lack of home runs is a result of Young trying to go opposite field yet in 2007, 2 of his home runs were to right and 2 went to left. The bottomline is that Young is failing to get elevation on the ball. He has hit groundballs on 63% of his balls in play and is creating line drives 13% of the time. That means he has hit flyballs in only 24% of the time.
I’d be inclined to add Joe Mauer to this list since the media rags on Joey Jo-Jo for not reaching the seats. On one hand his isolated slugging average is .090 and according to Bill James Online he is in the 36th percentile for Hitting for Power among MLB catchers but on the other he is slugging .421 with a 25% extra base hit rate resulting in 7 win shares.

* All we need is just a little patience. The team has drawn just 88 walks, 27th in the majors. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Branden Harris have 42 of them. Our lead-off hitter, Carlos Gomez, has more strikeouts (39) than last year’s whiff king Jack Cust (36) but Cust has 32 walks while Gomez has had patience enough to walk just five times. One of this biggest, however, came in the bottom of the 9th of the May 9th game where Gomez was able to coax a walk off of Jonathan Papelbon leading to a steal of second and ultimately the winning run scored on Mike Lamb’s bloop single. Speaking of Lamb, he has walked just 5 times in 115 plate appearances. Last season Jason Kubel walked in 10% of his plate appearances. This season he had obtained just four free passes - a 2% walk rate.

* Injuries. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Pat Neshek, Nick Punto, Adam Everett, Michael Cuddyer...Neshek, out for the season, is the most disruptive to the team's fabric. Gardenhire said that they will use Guerrier, Crain, Reyes and Rincon to bridge the bullpen from the 7th inning to the 9th - patching the hole in the 8th inning that Neshek's injury has created. Next to losing Joe Nathan for the season, the Twins could not have lost anyone more vital. Bullpen stability has a very strong correlation to winning. Look no further than the Detroit Tigers who have lost critical parts of the pen and are now loaded with high-caliber offensive talent but completely depleted when it comes to holding a late innings lead.

CHICAGO - MAY 08: Pat Neshek #17 of the Minnesota Twins leaves a game against the Chicago White Sox with an injury in the 8th inning on May 8, 2008 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Twins 6-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

* The re-introduction of Francisco Liriano. 10.3 agonizing innings to date. 13-to-7 walks-to-strikeouts ratio. Thankfully his less-than-an-inning performance in Oakland wasn't televised. Five hits, six earned runs, three walks and no strikeouts...ouch.

* To platoon or not platoon? Yes, the Free Jason Kubel movement was full of feelgoodery and backpatting (myself including) but ultimately his futility against left-handed pitching got the best of him. Gardenhire provided Kubel with 31 plate appearances against southpaws that lead to a miniscule batting line of .143/.194/.143 with 9 strikeouts. So move Monroe into the DH slot against lefties? Craig Monroe hasn't handled lefties at all either this season hitting .148/.207/.148 in 29 plate appearances (but as a career .269/.315/.483 hitter Monroe deserves to face the lefties). The problem is that both Kubel and Monroe have been crushing righties. In 49 plate appearances against right-handed pitching Monroe has hit .348/.388/.739 with four home runs. Kubel, given twice as many plate appearances against righties, has hit .256/.261/.467.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Twins Survive Boston

Twinks 7, Red Sux 3 (Box Score)

Boston Red Sox' Clay Buchhholz throws against the Minnesota Twins in first inning of a baseball game Monday, May 12, 2008 in Minneapolis.
“I felt good in the ’pen. I felt my fastball was good, but I guess it wasn’t as good as I expected or wanted it to be,” said Buchholz to the Providence Journal. “It might have been that I was trying to throw too hard, like I do sometimes.* Then I pulled a few of them (wide of the plate). I have to find that happy medium. I was leaving pitches up and they got hit. And when I went to my off-speed stuff they were all over it. It seemed like they were right on every first-pitch changeup."
*I don't know if there are any 30 Rock viewers out there but on last week's episode Jenna Merony, the ditsy, self-involved blonde actress on the show-within-the-show TGS with Tracey Jordan, admitted to loving to use a 'backdoor brag'. This, she said, was the act of "Sneaking something wonderful about yourself in everyday conversation". The example she uses is "Its hard for me to watch American Idol because I have perfect pitch." Buchholz saying "I was trying to throw too hard, like I do sometimes" is vaguely similar to this, as if he were trying to remind everyone of his great velocity. Still, when you sport more than four necklaces at a give time and you are not the lead singer of Rush, you are chalked full of douchbaggery. I would bet he pops more than two collars at any given time.
According to pitch f/x data, Buchholz didn't throw that many first-pitch changeups. At least not to any of the Twins batters in the first through the fourth where he started only Brendan Harris and Michael Cuddyer with changeups previously. The quote is mostly likely Buchholz recalling his last three batters (Michael Cuddyer, Craig Monroe and Delmon Young) in which he threw four pitches - three of them change-ups - and all resulted in hits. Cuddyer thwacked a line-drive up the middle on a 80-mph change, sending Joe Mauer to 3rd. Craig Monroe was started with a 82-mph slider in the dirt but laced a double on the ensuing 79-mph changeup scoring Mauer and Cuddyer from first. At this juncture in the 5th, it is six to three Twins with Monroe on second and only one out. In the last two at-bats, three pitches were thrown and two of them were changeups. With this in mind, catcher Jason Varitek and his battery-mate, 23-year-old Buchholz set to work on Delmon Young stubbornly determined to prove that Clay's changeup works. Young proved the Boston duo wrong, sending his first-pitch 77-mph changeup through the middle to score Monroe, effectively ending Buchholz's night.
The Twins are finishing what is possibly the hardest four-game stretch in the next two weeks with a 3-1 record. In the last ten game prior to Monday night's victory, the Twins offense was hitting .276/.333/.409 while scoring 60 runs during a stretch when they went 7-3. The pitching faired well with a 4.09 era though allowing a batting line of .281/.334/.449 against three of the better hitting clubs in the American League: Chicago, Detroit and Boston. In from Cleveland comes Toronto, a 18-22 ball club that is every bit of a disappointment in the American League East as the Tampa Bay Rays are a pleasant surprise. In the Blue Jays' most recent ten games prior to the doubleheader against Cleveland on Monday, Toronto has hit .265/.316/.395 while scoring just 25 runs but winning six out of ten thanks to a sharp pitching staff, one that limited opponents to just 38 runs and a .202/.265/322 batting line.
This will certainly present a challenge to the Twins lineup who must remain persistant. Roy Halladay will be a tough equation to solve. In his career against the Twins he has pitched 64.1 innings with a 6-0 record in 8 starts thanks to a 2.66 era and 45 strikeouts. He will be matching up against Boof Bonser on Wednesday night.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Where's He Going to Go From Here?

On June 1st, 2007 Kevin Slowey took the mound against the Oakland Athletics in front of ESPN's national coverage. In comparison to the current season in which the Twins are clinging to 1st in the AL Central with a record that is one game above .500, at that juncture in 2007 the Twins were 28-25 and were hoovering in third place six games out of first. The Twins had rattled off four straight wins to achieve their third place position thanks to a sweep of the White Sox. Cleveland would finish a sweep of the Tigers as the Twins opened their six-game swing on the West Coast against two formidable opponents, the A's and the Angels. This would be a pivotal road trip in the season if they wanted remain in contention with Detroit and Cleveland.

Just two days prior to Slowey's debut, the Twins finally sent Ramon Ortiz to the bullpen following his May 26th start against Toronto where he gave the Twins six innings but surrendered three home runs on his way to six runs. This was the final straw in the Ortiz saga, one that began with five straight quality starts in which the Twins won four of them. "Ramon overthrows, then he tries to nibble," Rick Anderson told the Star Tribune after Ramon had failed to complete five innings against Milwaukee, "He's not pitching with confidence and attacking the zone. I don't think he pitched inside today." In those first five starts, Ortiz went 35 innings and possessed a 2.57 era and held batters to a .217/.266/.364 batting line. Meanwhile his last three had been 11 disastrous innings resulting in an era of 12.27 and a batting line of .370/.410/.593.

Enough was enough. The Twins, repositioning Ortiz to the bullpen, recalled the right-hander who had blown through the ranks from Rochester. In 366 innings of minor league work Slowey has struck out 361 batters (25.5% strikeout rate) and walked just 52 (3.6%) resulting in a minuscule 0.84 whip. Just 20 times was Slowey hit deep, a home run rate of 1.4%. This swift ascension through the minors, from Elizabethton in 2005 to Rochester to start the 2007 season, coupled with his undeniable success would led anyone to believe that Slowey would merge seamlessly into Minnesota. After all, the Twins farm system has groomed dozens of less qualified pitchers that had success under Rick Anderson tutelage.

In six innings of work that June night Slowey gave up just one run on a solo-home run by Eric Chavez, scattered five hits while striking out three. He showed glimpses of what had earned him rave reviews from scouts during the spring, including getting out of a one-out bases-loaded jam in the first by getting Chavez to pop out and Bobby Crosby to ground out. The Twins scored two runs in the 10th to secure the win, but the win went to Neshek rather then Slowey. The Chavez home run, however, began a run of eight starts in which Slowey. In fact, in his first 42 innings pitched Slowey gave up 14 home runs. Opponents were slugging .611 off of him in that time. The Twins moved Slowey into the bullpen to have him attempt to learn more about his major league opponents who were taking advantage of Slowey's impecible control. By September 11th, Slowey was back in the rotation. In his last three starts to conclude the season, Slowey tossed 18.2 innings without giving up a home run and held opponents to just .208/.208/.319.

It was his first start of 2007 and his last three to close out the year - in addition to him minor league numbers - that the Twins had essentially wrote him in stone into the starting rotation as Johan Santana, Carlos Silva and Matt Garza made an exodus from Minnesota. During the spring, Slowey threw 10.7 innings that were below the standard that had been created for him. True, in that time he struck out 13 and walked just 5 but now Slowey was tagged for 17 hits, three of which were home runs (leading the staff). Of course, if we were judging by spring stats, Livan Hernandez would already have been cut rather than winning seven of his eight starts. An earlier season injury set Slowey back once again following 3.1 innings in the fourth game of the season.

Returning to the rotation this afternoon after a three-game minor league rehab tour, Slowey pitch fairly well. For four innings, Slowey kept the White Sox at bay. The fifth proved difficult as Slowey gave up career home run numbers 18 and 19 to Jermaine Dye and Juan Uribe. It is possible that we cannot gauge Slowey by the significantly high bar that he had set in the minors but rather as the pitcher that keeps his team in the game. Thursday afternoon, completing five innings and striking out four, Slowey left with a Game Score of 51. This means that he pitched well enough to keep his team in the game only his offense could not return the favor.


The minor league Slowey has yet to come to fruition in the big leagues in spite of bursting with promise and potential. With high-impact rookie pitching debuts such as Francisco Liriano, Twins fans might come to expect their prospects to be delivered major league ready when more often than not, it takes plenty of adaptation before settling into a career. Below are the numbers of two pitchers after their first 70 and 72 major league innings:

Player A 70 17 11 49 4.89 .288 .312 .542
Player B 72 14 18 34 6.00 .313 .352 .544

Player A is Kevin Slowey, stats are from prior until Thursday afternoon's start which do not include the two home runs. As you will notice, he has quite the inflated slugging average against thanks to seventeen home runs. Fortunately eleven have been solo home runs which has kept his era reasonable. Player B is another player Twins fans should be familiar with: Brad Radke. Of course it is the easiest comparison as Slowey has been labeled as the right-handed strike-thrower heir since he was drafted into the organization that groomed Radke into a pitcher with a .516 winning percentage (a muted winning percentage, thanks to some awful late 1990s teams) with his unwavering control. The major difference between the two is that Slowey compiled his first 70 major league innings as a 23 and 24-year-old, Radke was just 22-years-old in his first 72 innings. At age 24 Slowey is just starting to learn major league hitters as Radke, at 24, was a 20-game winner in his third professional season.

As the innings start to amass, Slowey will being to learn what pitches to which batters are more likely to land in the seats and make the necessary adjustments. But now he needs to do it more quickly. With Baker now on the DL, the Twins need Slowey to perform if they expect to retain possession of first. The Tigers and the Indians (not to mention the White Sox) all have the potential of striking back quickly as the Twins prepare for a four-game home series against the best team in the American League. From here on out in 2008, the Twins need Slowey to become the type of pitcher Radke was at age 24 in spite of far less experience.