Monday, June 30, 2008

2008: 2nd Quarter Review

With 82 games finished in the 2008 season, the Twins have found themselves positioned well. At 45-37, the Twins are the owners of the fifth best record in the American League, trailing the White Sox by a game and a half in the Central following Sunday's victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. As was the case with the results of the first quarter of the season (Game 1 through 41), Minnesota is an overachieving team. Sporting a 42-40 expected win-loss record the Twins have stole three wins reinforcing once again that baseball isn't always as predictable as statistics would suggest. Last season, the Twins posted the exact record (42-40) as the current expected win-loss record through 82 games. Instead of being in the thick of a division the Twins were buried 8.5 games out behind Cleveland and Detroit. The second-half of the season last year was a huge disappointment as the team played .463 baseball the rest of the way (37-43) in 2007.

The current season's second quarter (Game 42 through 82) record of 23-17 was supplemented with the 10 game winning streak combined with a 14-3 run in the past 17 games. Prior to that streak the 2008 Twins seemed destined to sink into oblivion. In the 12 games before the run began, the Twins went 3-9 including an embarrassing four-game sweep at the hands of the White Sox. To add salt, the Twins were outscored 40 to 15. The starting pitching was absolutely destroyed at US Cellular. Nick Blackburn, Livan Hernandez and Kevin Slowey were pounded in consecutive outings for game scores of 18, 19 and 10, respectively. The bullpen was taxed to the limits. After having the longest losing streak of the season (six) the Twins started a 10 game winning streak a week later. There are several moves and factors that have been critical to this resurgence at the midway point.

Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer follows through on a single home run to put the Twins ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers during the eighth inning of a baseball game, Friday, June 27, 2008, in Minneapolis.

* Mauer is healthy. No need to search on WebMD for something Joe Mauer related. Last year Twins catcher Joe Mauer's various left leg maladies limited him to 50 games in the first half of the season. His slashes were very good (.302/.392/.464) in his 224 plate appearance in the first half of 2007, however, in 2008 Mauer has been healthy enough to play in 72 games and while maintaining that same output (.326/.411/.466) in 79 more plate appearances. This sustained production has led to Mauer overtaking Boston's Jason Varitek in the All-Star voting. Having someone who is reaching base 41% of the time in the line-up fills a great prerequisite for scoring a run. He takes pitches (23 bbs to 11 ks) and has also found his power swing jacking three home runs in the second quarter as well as having a .225 isolated slugging average in the month of June.

* Interleague Play. Can the Twins petition the Commissioner's office to have the team reassigned to the Senior Circuit? The Twins are 14-3 against the National League opponents and to some people's surprise, Gardenhire managed the club well under the National League rules winning 6 of 9 on the road.

* Releasing Juan Rincon... Yes, he had at one time been the sturdiest of bridges from the 7th and 8th inning to the closer. Unfortunately seeing Rincon on the mound in 2008 meant that the Twins were either winning big or losing big (and if they weren't before Rincon's appearance, they certainly would be shortly thereafter). In his 11.1 innings of work in the second quarter of 2008, opponents had hit 3 home runs along with a .404/.492/.673 batting line. What's more is that in those 9 games Rincon came to the mound with five baserunners on and all five would score. Had Rincon been younger and more affordable, losing an arm like Rincon might have been an issue for an organization however after declining assignment Rincon is now Cleveland's problem where he is at triple-A Buffalo working on his mechanics.

* ...Gaining Craig Breslow. So Cleveland doesn't want Breslow but will accept Rincon with open arms? I thought General Manager Mark Shapiro and Assistant General Manager Chris Antonetti were supposedly the great sabermetric braintrust at the helm of the Indians organization. Reviewing the statistics, there is nothing to suggest that this was even close to intelligent. The Twins have recieved 10 innings of the lefty Breslow and he has yet to yield a run. In those 10 innings, Breslow has been asked to strand 6 runners on base, a task that he has completed with flying colors. In order to maintain this kind of production the Twins need to continue to bring him into situations that he would have greater opportunity to succeed, namely against lefties. The Breslow addition has also alleviate the usage of Dennys Reyes. In his 16 innings prior to the Breslow acquisition, Reyes's slashes were decent (.290/.343/.371) but possibly a cause for concern if Reyes would be the only left-handed option for Gardenhire out of the bullpen. Post-Breslow Reyes has thrown 6.2 innings and has stepped up admirably (.100/.250/.250). Sure Breslow's scoreless streak is bound to come to an end but having him in the bullpen gives Gardenhire that option that will keep from having to burn out Reyes's arm.

* The Slow-Man. Aside from his tango with the white hot White Sox, Kevin Slowey has been pitching like an ace this quarter of the season. In his last four starts, Slowey is 3-0 with a 0.93 era. This, of course, was capped off by Sunday afternoon's surgical precision carving up the dangerous Milwaukee Brewers line-up for a complete game three hitter striking out 8 along the way. If Minnesota wants to experience post-season dreams, the Twins are going to need Slowey as the complement to Scott Baker at the top end of the starting rotation. While nothing is promised with Francisco Liriano and with Livan Hernandez inconsistencies, Slowey is the stabilizer that the rotation needs going forward.

San Diego Padres' Brian Giles slides across the base to break up a double play in front of Minnesota Twins second baseman Alexi Casilla in the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 25, 2008 in San Diego.

* Recalling Alexi Casilla. Technically Casilla was recalled with two games remaining in the first quarter, but his production in the second has been one of the biggest reasons the Twins are still within striking distance of the White Sox. In 163 plate appearances in the second quarter, Casilla has hit .314/.363/.450 in the number two spot in the order. His patience and bat control is the perfect antidote to Carlos Gomez's flaying plate approach. On the field Casilla is electric at turning the doubleplay (ranked 9th among MLB second basemen according to the Fielding Bible), something that the pitching staff is greatly appreciative of, but his overall ability is still raw. Moving to his left he is above average however he is rated below average at plays up the middle. His revised zone rating of .762 is one of the worst among professional second basemen. Still, his offense is carrying his glove for the time being.

Minnesota Twins' Brian Buscher is met by teammates after he hit a solo home run against the San Diego Padres in the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, June 24, 2008 in San Diego.  Buscher's home run was the second of back-to-back homers in the inning as the Twins won 3-1.

* Brian Buscher at Third. This time the promotion better stick. In his 47 plate appearances since his second recall, Buscher is pummeling major league pitching with a .372/.383/.465 batting line. His hands and range are brutal (.759 rzr) but it looks like Brooks Robinson compared to Mike Lamb (.602 rzr). The disappointment of Mike Lamb is overwhelming, considering that there is still another year on his 2-year contract that the Twins will either eventually eat or Bill Smith will prove that he can barter a cow for magic beans at the trade deadline. Personally, the former seems to be the logical result of the Lamb era. Nevertheless, Buscher is doing at third what the Twins would have liked from Lamb...for pennies on the dollar. Had Smith considered the option of carrying Buscher and Matt Macri has the third base platoon instead of signing Lamb, the team might have a few more victories under their belt instead of insisting on trotting Lamb to the plate as frequently as they have.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Notebook Dump (06.26.08)

Game: Twinks 9, Friars 3

Box Score

Record: 42-36, 2nd, .5 games out

Streak: 8 wins

San Diego Padres Greg Maddux wipes his brow after surrendering a two-run double to Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer in the third  inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 25, 2008 in San Diego.

The Quote: "I don't go by results; I go by how I pitch. I didn't locate my fastball well... I did blow a three-run lead. You blow a three-run lead, you're not supposed to win anyway” – Greg Maddux

The Inning: After cruising through the Twins batting order in the first and second innings, iconic right-hander Greg Maddux with his stereotypical pin-point control. The future Hall of Famer, from his commanding post on the mound at Petco, appeared comfortably in the driver’s seat with Mauer’s flyball to left field being the only ball that had left the infield. Like Minnesota’s Livan Hernandez, Maddux relies on location rather than velocity. In fact, Maddux’s 83.3-mph fastball average comes in slightly slower than Hernandez’s “blazing” 83.9 fastball (but Maddux boasts 12.2% strikeout rate to Livan’s 7.2%). Spotted with a three-run lead Maddux began the inning by erasing second baseman Brendan Harris with a strike out looking. "He starts it off the plate, and you see it early and say, 'Oh, that's a ball,'" Harris told the press after the game. "Then it just comes back, and it's frustrating because you sit there and drop a few curse words and say it's going to be a long night if he keeps putting the ball right there.”

With Harris disposed of this brought Brian Buscher to the plate. Buscher had been carving up right-handed pitching, looking very much like the answer to the Twins’ left-handed batting platoon option at third leaving Brendan Harris or Matt Macri (if the Twins find a way to make room) to handle the portsiders. In Buscher’s 38 plate appearances against right-handed pitching, he’s batting a manimal-like .424/.447/.576 in his short time with the big club. Since his recall, he is hitting .414 on base put in play thanks to a line drive rate of 32%. Of course, this output is not sustainable as the season progresses, but for now he has done everything possible to help the club including going 9-22 since the Twins winning streak began. Maddux began Buscher with two 84-mph fastball’s that were south of the k-zone. The third was up in the zone, out over the plate. Buscher laced it on a line between first and second for the Twins first base-runner of the game.

The defense, with the pitcher, Glen Perkins, coming to the plate with just the one out, pulled the corner infielders in to field the obvious sacrifice bunt. The Twin Cities native did his job amicably, pushing one to Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and advanced Buscher to second. Carlos Gomez followed by allowing himself to be hit by a blistering 86-mph (!!!) fastball, and trotted down to occupy first.

With two-outs and now Buscher in scoring position the Twins and Alexi Casilla have found themselves in a situation they have performed very well in. In 365 occasions the Twins as a team have come up to bat with runs in scoring position with 2-outs only to drive in 120 runs while hitting .278/.378/.425. Casilla, in his 24 plate appearances in that situation had driven in 13 runs while hitting .400/.500/.750. Then again, Casilla has had a rollercoaster month of June. On June 6th, Casilla was flirting with .350 for a batting average only to go 13-for-55 and witnessed his average drop 51 points by June 21st, 14 games later. Nevertheless, Casilla honed in on Maddux’s 1-1 cutter that cut the plate in half, pulling it on the ground to the right-side of the infield to watch it bleed through to score Buscher from second, Gomez, checked in at second.

This brought up Joe Mauer. Mauer, of course, has been hitting the ball well in every and any situation this year. Drudge up any circumstance and Mauer has succeeded. Versus right-handers? .303/.411/.399. Versus lefties? .368/.398/.500. Bases empty? .314/.390/.445. Runners in scoring position? .317/.427/.381. Runners in scoring position with 2-outs? .324/.378/.382. Runners in scoring position with 2-outs, Greg Maddux on the mound in Petco Park with the temperature at 88 degrees after 9:05 central standard time? 1.000/1.000/2.000. At least it was following his opposite field double on Maddux’s fastball that caught too much of the plate. Gomez scored easily and the speedy Casilla was right on his heals. "I couldn't locate my fastball tonight. I was wild up," Maddux said later. "Some other pitchers can do that, but I can't."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Who's the Filthiest?

Dirty. Nasty. Wicked. Sick. Filthy. Whatever the lingo maybe on the field some pitches will simply leave opponents muttering to themselves on the way back to the dugout following a foolishly empty swing. In June 2007 Stats Inc analyzed Boof Bonser's WHIFF profile to find that through that month of the season, Bonser had the necessary pitches that made some batters feel shame. To that point Bonser's curveball had a .388 WHIFF average - making batters swing and miss nearly 40% of the time. His slider boasted a .310 WHIFF average. As the season progressed and his pitch totals increased his ability to maintain that WHIFF average decreased. Bonser witnessed his WHIFF average on his curve plummet to .247 while his slider dropped to .204. Up until June 27th when the Stats articled was penned Bonser had been striking out 21% of batters faced (83 of 379) but the rest of the season Bonser's strikeout rate dropped to 13% (53 of 393 batters faced). This may because of advance scouting recognizing Bonser's pitch sequencing or simply that his curve and slider lost their bite as the season wore on. Conversely, Johan Santana's December 2007 WHIFF profile indicated that his change-up, as obvious as it is to Twins fans that spent years watching it be delivered, had a WHIFF average of .399 - a well-above average rate on a change-up (.277 MLB change-up average) that he sustained all season long. For the 2007 season, the righty Bonser and the lefty Santana finished with a 17.6% and 26.8% strikeout rates, respectively.

This year's rotation is not a strikeout rotation. Currently the team's starters boast a collective strikeout rate of 13%. This is below the American League average (16%) as a staff for the first time in three years. In 2007, the Twins had a 17% strikeout rate as the league had a 16% strikeout rate. Prior to that in 2006, the Twins had a 18% strikeout rate as the league maintained a 15% strikeout rate. Needless to say it does not hurt when your rotation has Johan Santana and his .399 WHIFF average change-up. In 2006 the Twins not only had Johan Santana, but also had a healthy Francisco Liriano and Brad Radke interspersed with Matt Garza, Boof Bonser and Scott Baker. Who on the 2008 Twins staff has the pitch that is generating the most swing and misses so far this season?

Minnesota Twins' Scott Baker throws against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first inning of a baseball game Friday, June 20, 2008, in Minneapolis.

Top 5 in the Rotation Pitch Usage Thrown WHIFF
Scott Baker Slider 31.2% 182 .223
Nick Blackburn Cutter 27.4% 261 .215
Scott Baker Fastball 60.3% 350 .173
Livan Hernandez Slider 16.1% 183 .169
Nick Blackburn Change-Up


95 .164
Scott Baker's slider at .223 is leading the staff as the highest WHIFF pitch. Baker, in fact, has two of the best pitches among the staff with his fastball (.173 WHIFF) as he is the only true "strikeout pitcher" on the staff. Not surprising he is leading the staff in with a 20% strikeout rate. Nick Blackburn, on the other hand, also has two pitches in the top five which is probably more indicative of the make-up of the staff rather than his stuff. True, his cutter is registering a .215 WHIFF average but Blackburn has a below American League average strikeout rate. While AL starters are striking out 16% of batters they face, Blackburn is striking out 12.6%. Strikeout rate aside, Blackburn has seen success because he uses an assortment of pitches and does not rely on just one. For example, Blackburn throws five pitches: the fastball (15%), sinker (36%), curveball (11%), change-up (10%), and a cutter (27%). It is this ability to change his sequencing with pitches that he throws with impeccable control, all in the k-zone nearly 70% of the time, that has given him an era of 3.68 well below the AL average of 4.25 in spite of his low strikeout rate.

Top 5 in the Bullpen Pitch Usage Thrown WHIFF
Matt Guerrier Slider 16.7% 118 .439
Dennys Reyes Slider 64.4% 154 .378
Joe Nathan Slider 28.6% 107 .328
Boof Bonser Curveball 16.1% 183 .323
Jesse Crain Splitter


104 .259

Matt Guerrier has the honor of having the best WHIFF pitch in the entire stable of very good arms. When the Twins bandied the notion of life without Joe Nathan during this past offseason, Guerrier's name was one on the top of the list. "With his big breaking ball," Gardenhire said, "as a starter he'd get through two times through the lineup. But now you put him in the pen and let him go through the lineup once, and he eats them up." The accolade was for the curveball, as it is the most visually prominent of his pitches with its textbook 12-6 break, but it is his slider that has benefited him to most. That isn't to say that his curveball isn't very good. In fact, the curveball (.167) has been far inferior to his slider (.439) yet it would be the 5th best pitch among those in the rotation. Guerrier has seen his strikeout rate slip for a high of 19% last season to 14% this year which could have something to do with his fastball. He is throwing his fastball in the k-zone less than 50% of the time (42%) which is a problem since he is using it nearly 70% of the time. Logically enough, his walk rate has increased from 6% in 2007 to 10% in 2008.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Notebook Dump (6.23.08)

Game: Twins 5, D-Backs 3

Box Score

Record: 40-36, 2nd place, 1.5 games out

Streak: 6 wins

Minnesota Twins' Alexi Casilla scores after a hit by Justin Morneau against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, June 22, 2008 in Minneapolis.

The Quote: "Most of the balls that are hit, you are going to lose it for the most part but they'll come back to you. I was just sitting there hoping that it would come back into view and it never did." - Conor Jackson, Diamondbacks leftfielder

The Inning: Delmon Young had been manned left field like a stranger in a strange land. In the third inning of Sunday's game, Young pussy-footed his way in on Conor Jackson's fly ball after a few steps backwards that eventually fell in for a single. Fortunately, Livan Hernandez was able to strand Jackson aiding his own plummeting left-on-base rate (67.0%). In the top of the fourth, with two out and Mark Reynolds on 1st and Conor Jackson on 2nd, Diamondbacks catcher Chris Snyder pulled a Hernandez 77-mph curveball through the hole on the right-side. With two outs, Reynolds had his sights set on the plate and was rounding third. Young, a strong outfield arm that had thrown out 11 base-runners last year, charged hard on the bouncing ball, highly capable of throwing out the Diamondbacks third baseman. Only Young didn't come up with the ball. The ball scooted under Young's glove when he tried to position himself for a throw home and the ball bounded towards the padded left-field wall with center fielder Carlos Gomez giving chase. Reynolds and Jackson scored easily has Snyder pulled into third. One wild curveball later from Hernandez and Snyder trotted home for a 3-0 Diamondbacks lead.

At the conclusion of Sunday's game, Delmon Young fielding statistics in left field took significant hits. In terms of range factor, Young's 2.15 was better than the league average left fielder at 2.09. His revised zone rating of .865, fourth among American League left fielders, put him closer to Carl Crawford (.877) than Raul Ibanez (.843). In spite of his "clunky feet" when he runs, Young covers decent ground in comparison to the rest of the league's left fielders. Coverage hasn't been his problem. His problem is that his approach has been off. According the Fielding Bible statistics, Young is currently ranking 28th among Major League left fielders when you consider expected outs and total outs make for a -8 rating. Even the slow-footed, noodle-armed Shannon Stewart managed to produce a +3 rating in Toronto. It is visually evident with his choppy steps towards plays. Admittedly, Young is fast. He is tied with Michael Cuddyer for team lead in triples (4) in addition to nine stolen bases so his approach to fly balls is worrisome, borderline clueless at times. Following the Snyder mishap, the boos were audible within the Dome. And with just cause. The hype and potential surrounding Delmon Young was substantial but Twins fans have yet to see any of that. His right handed bat was expected to replace Torii Hunter's displaced bat and give the Twins a defensive upgrade over Jason Kubel. The results have been wildly different. True, Young's .275 batting average has been better than the league average .264 (11 points better), but his on-base percentage (.323) and slugging (.363) are well below the average left fielder (.337 and .421).

Thankfully, the Diamondbacks matched Young's defensive ineptitude in left field. Without Eric Byrnes the Diamondbacks had been short one outfielder. Manager Bob Melvin penciled in Conor Jackson, the 26-year-old who had spent 65.7 of his 2628 innings in the outfield. All the Twins had to do was expose the inexperience. "Not being a true outfielder and then playing in this dome -- it's going to be even tougher," Delmon Young said regarding Jackson. In the fifth inning, Jason Kubel hit an 86-mph Brandon Webb sinking fastball to left that Jackson later claimed he never saw. With Kubel at first, Delmon Young, who had grounded out to Stephen Drew in the second inning, strode to the plate. In the past ten games and 41 plate appearances, Young had been hitting .308/.341/.385. Young fouled off Webb's first pitch, an 87-mph fastball. His next offering, a 86-mph change, Young lofted to left field for what appeared to be a certain can-of-corn out. The local broadcast would show Conor Jackson blankly staring towards the Teflon sky. "I saw it off the bat and that's about it," Jackson said. "I'm sure I'm not the first person to do it here, sure I won't be the last. I didn't want to throw my hands up because if I throw my hands up, he's probably going to score." The blank look instead of throwing up the hands in efforts to show the rest of the field that he had no clue where the ball was probably saved a run for the moment. Kubel hovered near second until the moment appeared that Jackson was not going to catch the ball. Young checked into second.

Brian Buscher followed. Since his early June call up, Buscher had been hitting .364/.333/.409 in 24 plate appearances with nine rbis. In the third inning Buscher had pulled a grounder through the right side for his first base hit of the game. Webb had gone up 0-2 on Buscher after starting him with two curveballs but failed to close on two subsequent sinking fastballs. In his second plate appearance, Webb started him with a fastball for a ball then Webb went to his change-up, a pitch that Webb confessed was his out-pitch. Buscher sent a 1-1 change-up back up the middle to score both Kubel and Young. Branden Harris then followed with a groundball single to left field (one that Jackson evidently tracked) moving Buscher to second. Next came Carlos Gomez, the man who had been 17-34 in bunts prior to Sundays game - a .515 average, one of the best in the league. With Buscher and Harris on the bases, a sacrifice was transparent. Gomez laid down a good one that Reynolds, the man who had rolled his ankle less than 24 hours before in an apparent sprain, made a close play on Gomez at first.

This brought up Alexi Casilla. In 61 plate appearances in May, Casilla had hit .340/.410/.520, a line that competed with most sluggers, not slap hitters. In June, Casilla's line dropped considerably. In 85 June plate appearances, Casilla was hitting .267/.282/.347. Part of the reason was his pitch selection. In May, Casilla walked 13.1% of the time. In June he walked in just 3.5% of his plate appearances. This suggests that Casilla has been swinging at weaker pitches. His batting average on balls in play went from .366 in May to .292 in June. His last ten games Casilla's average had been .216/.279/.243 in 46 plate appearances. Still in the first inning Casilla had worked the NL Cy Young runner-up for six pitches before lining a single to Conor Jackson in left. Webb began Casilla off with the same sinking fastball that he lined to opposite field only this time Casilla grounded this back up the middle to score Buscher and Harris. Harris would ultimately being the winning run. "The Dome gods helped us out a little bit," Gardenhire told the Star Tribune.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What's Wrong with Boof?

Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, left, and pitcher Boof Bonser celebrate after the Twins beat the Washington Nationals 11-2 in a baseball game Wednesday, June 18, 2008, in Minneapolis.

Not too long ago, Bonser was one of the pitching crown jewels of the Twins organization, blasting through double-A and triple-A ball after being acquired in the AJ Pierzynski trade with San Francisco. In 2005 with the Rochester Red Wings, Bonser racked up 168 strike outs in 160.1 innings (24.5% k%) finishing 11-9 with a 3.99 era. The following season, Bonser began back in triple-A and was producing similarly - 83 strikeouts in 86 innings pitched (22.9%) – when in late May the Twins desperately needed his help. In his debut in Milwaukee gave Twins fans a glimpse of the last of the Pierzynski dividends as Bonser finished six innings while striking out 8 and surrendering just the one run. His subsequent starts were less successful as in his next six starts Bonser tossed 29.2 innings only to have a 6.07 era in that duration with opponents hitting .299/.354/.556 off of him. From August on, Bonser pitched significantly better, starting 11 games and throwing 64.2 innings with a 3.62 era. This end of the year performance earned him the Game 2 start in the ALDS against the Oakland Athletics. Esteban Loaiza and Bonser matched each other with two runs a piece. The Twins bullpen conceded three more runs after Bonser left the game and the offense could generate anything against the Oakland relievers.

As Twins long-time rotation fixture Brad Radke retired after the 2006 season, a lot of attention was placed on Bonser hoping that he could stabilize the Twins rotation with his 19 starts of experience. With high hopes in 2007, Bonser failed to live up to vaunted expectations, finishing the season with 8-12 in 30 starts with a 5.10 era (4.98 fip) and an eventual demotion to the bullpen. The had gone 14 and 17 in his starts a big disappointment from management and the front office who were hoping that Bonser would improve on his 10-8 appearance record in 2006. This performance set off a whirlwind offseason in which Bonser was determined to loss weight, attributing the disappointing season to being overweight. "I know last year was a wake up call for him," Gardenhire

said this past spring. "We took him out of the rotation, and I think he was pretty disappointed. I expected that and hoped for that. I think it kind of lit a fire under him, hopefully."

In his first six starts of the 2008 season, Bonser performed much better than his 2-4 record reflects. In 36 innings Bonser struck out 22 and walked just 9. Opponents were hitting just .250/.293/.379 off of him. In his final six starts of the season (so far) Bonser had tossed 30.1 innings and had struck out 20 and walked 11. Opponents increased their batting line to .286/.340/.459 in that time capping it off with an 8.60 era. "I want to be in the starting rotation,'' Bonser told the press after getting shellacked by the New York Yankees on May 30th, on what would be his last start to date, "I know guys are pitching better than me. Whatever their decision is, is their decision. It's just unfortunate that I had such a bad month. I would like to say that, hopefully, this [outing] would be a game to turn me around and get things rolling. It just stinks to be at this point and not getting production I know I can do.''

For the record, Bonser had not been all bad. His 4.09 fip is an indication that he is throwing much better than his 6.48 era would suggest. This is his lowest FIP to date at the major league level. As a starter he was only being supported with 3.65 runs per start. Since his second demotion to the bullpen in as many seasons, Bonser has made six appearances and has given up runs in all but one of those outings. As a reliever, Bonser has contributed an 10.38 era as opponents were smashing him with a .452/.489/.571 batting line. "I was throwing strikes; that's what's weird," Bonser told the Pioneer Press after the May 24th outing in Detroit in which he gave up 8 earned runs in 3 innings of work and allowed Magglio Ordonez to crush a home run that cleared the Tigers bullpen. "I was throwing off-speed pitches, and they weren't getting fooled."












54% 91.9 .071 .408 Fastball 58% 90.7 .118 .289
Curve 19% 79.5 .247 .389 Curve 15% 79.1 .323 .353
Slider 20% 85.6 .204 .324 Slider 17% 85.9 .172 .356
Change 6% 82.2 .068 .294 Change 6% 82.7 .194 .429

The first reason for Bonser’s 2008 decline is his self-diagnosed off-speed pitches: batters are just not getting fooled as he mentioned in May. According to pitch f/x data supplied by Josh Kalk seminal website From Small Ball to the Long Ball, we can analyze and visually see in the chart above that Bonser is indeed having some issues with his breaking stuff. In 2007, Bonser alternated between his curveball, which he preferred for left-handed batters (23% of the time), and slider, his right-handed batter’s weapon of choice (31% of the time), to off-set his fastball. His 91.9-mph average fastball, one that sinks (~90) and one that was straight (~93), was hit hard. Opponents swung and missed on the fastball just 7.1% of the time (as indicated by his .071 WHIFF average) and had a hefty .408 average on balls in play. His curveball proved to be the most effective pitch in his repertoire as it had a .247 WHIFF average. The slider wasn’t far behind with a .204 WHIFF average. Both the curveball and the slider, two pitches very capable of inducing a strikeout, also had high averages when put into play.

Lefties absolutely mashed Bonser in 2007. In 411 plate appearances, left-handed opponents hit .349/.407/.563 though he struck out his fair share of them as well (17.7% k% vs lhb) more so than right-handed batters (17.4% k%). This is evident because Bonser relied strictly on his fastball (58%) and curveball (23%) two pitches that were extremely hittable (the fastball more so) but he also was able to strike out that many because his curveball had the highest WHIFF average AND called strike average (32%). The righties, however, had a more difficult time scratching out hits off of Bonser. In 361 plate appearances the right-side opponents managed just a .214/.285/.360 batting line. Bonser had been feeding them steady diets of fastballs (49%) and sliders (31%) with greater results than the left-handed counterparts, mostly because his slider was less likely to succumb to a base hit when put into play.

His approach to hitters shifted somewhat in 2008 in terms of pitch distribution. Left-handed batters are now seeing more fastballs (64%) while Bonser hasn't used one particular offspeed pitch to the group. Seeing as that his swing-and-miss rate had improved on his fastball (.118 vs. .071) and that the contact made was creating more outs (.289 vs .408) the reliance on the fastball was the reason left-handed opponent average declined to .297/.322/.441. Right-handed batters on the other hand still saw the same dosage of fastballs (53%) and sliders (23%) only now Bonser has begun tossing the curve at them as well (17%). This has resulted in an increased opponents batting line from the low .214/.285/.360 in 2007 to a hefty .288/.322/.441 in 2008. One possible explanation for this is that his slider has flattened out. What was his second most dominating pitch last year is now arguably his least successful one. The WHIFF average has decreased to .172 and opponents are hitting .356 when they put the ball in play.

The second reason is due to one of Bonser’s 2008 resolutions. The first of which we have all seen was him shedding 25 pounds to increase the yet-to-be-seen endurance. The other, more subtle resolution was to use his change-up more frequently. "Last year, I threw like maybe one or two a game,'' Bonser said discussing his 2007 usage of the change, "and that was amazing." So far Bonser has interspersed his change-up along with his other off-speed weapons into the game with as much frequency as he did last year (6%) only this time the results are significantly different. Last season Bonser had fewer swings-and-misses with his change-up (.068 WHIFF) than his fastball (.070 WHIFF) but saw the pitch be the hardest pitch to reach base with (.294 babip). This season he has been able to get more bats to miss (.194 WHIFF) with the pitch but only to find it very hittable (.429 babip).

What is reassuring is that Bonser's fastball is solid. Not only because of the velocity and the lack of hits produced by it, but also Bonser's control of the pitch. Last season Bonser threw his fastball in the zone 63% of the time and this year he has been around the plate 70% of the time. Like Scott Baker, Boof Bonser should take a lesson and rely on his two best pitches and disperse a third to change a hitter's eye line. Baker is a two trick pony using the fastball liberally (63%) and following that with his slider (21%). On occasion, Baker tosses in a good curve (10%). Bonser, as he is trying to regain his form in the bullpen, should begin by eliminating the change for the time being. True Bonser has only thrown it approximately once an inning, but when you consider that this pitch is detrimental when put into play, the idea of forcing it in for having a "fourth pitch" is not helping. Even throwing this pitch once an inning creates the possibility of continuation of said inning, more so than any other of his pitches. 42% of the time a batter makes contact with it that batter reaches base safely, prolonging the inning. In 16 different innings this year Bonser has thrown 20 or more pitches. Furthermore, his change's rate of speed (82.7) only varies it from his slider by 3 miles per hour on average - the pitch must appear to be a hanging slider to the batter - Bonser could easily obtain the same effect with his curveball which has a 6.8 mile per hour difference plus has a greater WHIFF average. The second measure he should take is to downshift the usage of the slider. I am not suggesting the pitch be discarded but rather take a back seat to his existing fastball (sinker/two seamer) and curveball. Instead of combating right-handed batters with a pitch that has been hit far too often, Bonser needs to concentrate once again on throwing his curveball, one that has a .323 WHIFF average.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Notebook Dump (6.18.08)

Game: Twinks 2, Nats 1

Box Score

Record: 35-36, 2nd place, 4.5 games back

Streak: 1 win

The Quote: “I don’t think that’s where that guy wanted to throw that ball.” - Ron Gardenhire

The Inning: The 23-year-old John Lannan has been a lightening rod for bad luck. In his past three starts his offense has generated one run per game. The three before that, they scored two-runs per game. That’s a measly 1.5 runs of support in those games (a number that is qualifying of a "Deadbeat Dad" offense). Lannan, meanwhile, was allowing just 2.0 runs per game in those previous six outings. Somehow, he managed to win one. The Nats are 4-10 in his starts providing the young left-hander with 2.49 runs per start so far this season. He has lost games with game scores amounting to 53, 73, 56, 52, 53 and as of last night, 60. For five innings the sophomore pitcher cruised against the Twins, relinquishing just the one hit – a double to Joe Mauer that could have just as well been caught by left fielder Kory Casto - there were essentially no well hit balls by the Twins line-up.

Lannan entered the bottom of the sixth inning with just three runners reaching base. With the top of the Twins order coming up, Nationals manager Manny Acta was expecting his young hurler to pacify the Twins for as long as he could fully aware that the Nationals had a bullpen with a combined 4.19 era. Lannan began the inning by getting Carlos Gomez to pop weakly to second and then followed with a groundout by right-handed batting Alexi Casilla. Throughout the game, Lannan had induced groundballs nearly 70% of the time keeping his infielders busy. On the season, Lannan had been an extreme groundball pitcher, getting batters to hit gounders 57% of the balls put in play. This is significantly higher than the National League average of 44%. "His ball kind of gets on you,” said Joe Mauer, “I don't know if it's something with his delivery. He had a good angle on his pitches. He had some good stuff working tonight." Fortunately for the Twins, Joe Mauer has proven success against groundball-type pitchers. In 127 plate appearances against groundball pitchers, Mauer is hitting .336/.394/.425. Mauer then proceeded to fend off one of Lannan’s good pitches following Casilla’s ground out and almost Charlie Browned Lannan with a grounder back through the box.

By keeping the inning alive, Mauer’s single brought Justin Morneau to the plate. For 16 games Morneau’s bat had not created a home run. Lannan had all the intention in the world of keeping it that way when he released the curveball. "I figured if I threw the same kind of pitch..." Lannan began reminiscing about his first inning double-play inducing curveball, "I shouldn't have thrown that pitch in that same situation. It was a mistake." The mistake pitch, clocked at 72-mph by pitch f/x data, left Morneau’s bat at 107-mph landing over the baggy and 10 rows deep. categorized Morneau’s 403-foot true distance home run (the Dome estimator says 421) as a No-Doubter, clearing any stadium in professional baseball. "I was looking for something offspeed, he threw it over and I wasn't trying to hit a home run, but I'll take it," the Canadian said.

Some will credit Livan Hernandez for matching Lannan (for the most part) frame by frame, only giving up the double to Paul LoDuca and the subsequent infield hit to Cristian Guzman for the solitary Nationals run. "He's always amazing," Lannan said. "He just throws strikes, and he mixes it up well. He's not overpowering, but he knows how to pitch, and he always has known how to pitch. You always learn something when you watch a guy like that." True, it was a good outing that only required 77 pitches to obtain a victory with a game score of 63, but credit is also deserving of the anemic National offense which is last in the National League with 3.71 runs per game.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The (2007) ‘Pen is Mightier

DENVER - MAY 18:  Pitcher Jesse Crain #28 of the Minnesota Twins waits with catcher Mark Redmond #55 as manager Ron Gardenhire makes his way to the mound to remove Crain after he walked Taylor Buchholz the Colorado Rockies to score Matt Holliday in the seventh 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)

In 2007 manager Ron Gardenhire leaned on his bullpen to pitch 32.6% of the team's total innings. This was below the American League average of 34%. Limiting the use of the bullpen was critical with injuries to Dennys Reyes and Jesse Crain. The 2007 starting rotation provided the Twins with an ample 5.9 innings per start allowing much needed rest to the bullpen. The relievers, in response, provided 469.1 solid innings holding opponents to a .255/.325/.403 batting line as the starters were getting pummeled at a .276/.324/.445 clip. With only 18 of the team’s 83 losses attributed to the second fiddlers, the 2007 relief staff was effective in the later innings in both maintaining leads and the wherewithal to earn 20 victories as well. Below is the bullpen sorted by the percentage of relief innings provided.

























































Twins Relief Avg:








League Relief Avg:








As you can see, the Twins relief support was across the board slightly better than league average in all categories except slugging. This is attributed to the use of Juan Rincon who Gardenhire used in 12% of the relief innings, only to be torched for a slugging percentage of .437. The top three of the heaviest utilized pitchers, Guerrier, Nathan and Neshek, comprised of 47% of the relief innings and provided much better innings that your average reliever. When those three were on last year, it was like watching an Olympic relay team handing off a baton at a full sprint. Seventh inning Guerrier. Eighth inning Neshek. Nathan in the ninth. They inspired confidence.

Minnesota Twins' Joe Nathan, right, congratulates catcher Joe Mauer after picking up the save as the Twins beat the New York Yankees 6-5 in a baseball game Monday, June 2, 2008 in Minneapolis.

The current year has been a different story altogether. The confidence that Twins fans felt with Nathan anchoring the back-end, Neshek in the 8th and a combination of Guerrier and Reyes in the 7th would give the Twins the best chance to win snapped when Neshek's arm did and the bullpen shuffle began. The starting rotation has only been able to supply an average of 5.7 innings per start in the first 66 games of the season. Because of this, Gardenhire has increased the relief staff usage to 36% (214.2) of the total innings (591) which is a sharp contrast to the 33% American League average. This increased reliance on the bullpen exacerbates the existing condition that the staff is depleted. To date, the bullpen has been responsible for nine losses. "We were complaining about having 13 pitchers right now," Gardenhire said, "but we've needed every single one of them."


























































6% 26.7% 7.1% .240 .291 .460 n/a
Twins Relief Avg:








League Relief Avg:








The pitchers that are now compiling 48% of the relief innings (Bass, Guerrier and Rincon) are substantially worse than your league average reliever. Brian Bass’s long relief duties have been riddled with offensive explosions (5.05 era) as he has been summoned to the mound with 31 inherited runs, seven of which have scored (23% IRA%). Bass has progressed since his May 24th Detroit debacle, only allowing three runs in almost ten innings of relief while stranding all nine inherited runners in that time. Unfortunately Bass had been tagged for three extra base hits including two home runs in those ten innings as well an indication that he is not . Juan Rincon’s demise has been well-documented as of late. The Twins blogosphere seems to be echoing the same three letters: DFA. According to Joe Christensen, the Twins have outrighted Rincon to Rochester (SENTIMENTALITY ALERT: with the release of Rincon, it effectively terminates any connection to the 2002 American League Central Champion Twins. Cuddyer, who played 41 games in 2002 in addition to 8 play-off games, is the last refuge). I suggested recently that Rincon should begin to work his slider more frequently now that the velocity on his fastball is decreasing. Instead, Rincon had increasingly thrown the fastball at a great frequency resulting in his .478 slugging percentage. Rincon will undoubtedly opt for free agency instead of accepting the minor league assignment which will allow any team to sign him (and his baggage). Any team that is desperate enough for a right-handed arm should consider getting Rincon to focus on the off-speed pitch.

Of the three, Matt Guerrier has been the most disappointing. Guerrier’s innings volume in 2007 is derivative of his use as a long-reliever in the beginning months of the seasons. He was so successful in that role that he was the natural choice to graduate to a 7th inning man. In April 2007, Guerrier was averaging 1.5 innings per outing. By the end of the season Guerrier was averaging about one inning per outing as his role was changed to short right-handed relief when Jesse Crain was disabled for the season and Neshek was shut down in September. What helped Guerrier were his breaking balls that were set up by a very good 92 mph fastball. Both his curveball (80 mph) and slider (86 mph) had high-rates of swing and misses (.348 and .364 WHIFF rates, respectively) and therefore led to his best strikeout rate of his career (19.3%). Guerrier’s emergence brought fortitude to an otherwise unstable bullpen. This season in his set-up role, Guerrier has accumulated seven holds but has been hit harder and has let more base runners on (10.0% bb%, .342 obp) then he had in his previous season. These erratic tendencies has made Guerrier less than the sure-thing set-up man that made Pat Neshek so valuable. The only difference in Guerrier’s pitch selection is that he is leaning slightly more on his fastball (58% vs. 55%) this season at the expense of his curveball (13% vs. 17%). This is notable because Guerrier's curve is much more likely to obtain a miss (nearly 35% of the time) than his fastball (18%).

Assuming that Boof Bonser, Brian Bass and Craig Breslow will shoulder some of the innings that were left for Rincon, the Twins will now be using a mixture of Reyes, Crain and Guerrier to bridge the starts from their 5.7 innings to Joe Nathan in the ninth. Things could be far worse. Dennys Reyes will continued to be asked to retire the left-handed slugger like Texas's Josh Hamilton or Cleveland's Grady Sizemore in late inning situations. As was the case last night when Reyes elevated a slider to Sizemore who redirected the pitch to the right field bleachers, the results may vary. So far this season, Reyes has inherited 26 runners allowing eight of them to score (30% IRA%). Reyes's numbers from his 2006 season when he posted a 0.89 era (2.92 fip) have changed in the past two seasons. In that season, Reyes essentially threw two pitches, a fastball (58%, 90.1 mph) and a slider (35%, 84.8 mph). This not only rendered left-handed hitters grossly ineffective (.148/.219/.205) but also the right-handed counterparts (.244/.299/.344) those two pitches helped Reyes get groundballs on nearly 73% of balls in play. This season, Reyes has been the same two pitch pitcher but has increased the amount of use of his slider from the 35% in 2006 to 47% of the time in 2008. Although left-handed opponents are still finding Reyes difficult to solve (.200/.250/.289) but right-handed hitters are crushing him (.385/.467/.538). In 2006, Reyes used the fastball exclusively against the right-handers (66% of the time). This season, right-handers are getting far fewer fastballs (43%) and are evidently hitting the off-speed offerings more. The 2008 version of Reyes isn't nearly as satisfying as the 2006 edition. "He's got more stuff that I don't know about. He changes arm angles, maybe spins it a little more, things like that. He's using a split-finger as a changeup a little bit this year," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "He sees the same guys, so he's always adding things."

Crain is the question mark. His fastball, one that was reaching 94.3 on average prior to the surgery, is still effective at 93.7. The curveball, when thrown (only 12% of his total), has a big break with a decent change in speed (77 mph) to keep hitters off-balance. Though his month of May was littered with walks (12.3% bb%), his month of June so far has seen a much more controlled Crain (7.6% bb%). In 2006 the Twins assumed that Crain was going to be a solid sixth/seventh inning set-up man interchangeable with the fading Juan Rincon but after last year's shoulder surgery it was a mystery as to what Crain would be able to provide. The Twins management obvious have confidence in him. When asked his preference to replace the injured Neshek Ron Gardenhire said "I think Crain is my first choice. We'll go with match-ups, where we're at and what guys have done against other teams. I think we'll go Crain and Matt Guerrier, and then we'll probably use [left-hander Dennys] Reyes to get some of those lefties out in those innings. I think that with his stuff, he can absolutely handle it. Using that breaking ball like you saw last night -- that curveball, that back-door breaking ball -- his fastball is good enough, obviously. He's throwing it well."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Notebook Dump (6.11.08)

Game: Indians 1, Twinks 0

Box Score

Record: 31-34, 2nd, 6.5 back

Streak: Lost six

Cleveland Indians' C.C. Sabathia pitches against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, June 10, 2008, in Cleveland. Sabathia pitched a complete game to get the 1-0 win.

* Two days after I highlighted the fact that the Twins had been their own worst enemies on the basepaths, Carlos Gomez and Matt Macri made two fatal base-running gaffs. Macri was caught stealing in a pick-off by Sabathia after leading off the third with a bunt single thus thwarting any attempt at the rally. However, Gomez's fubar was possible more of a problem for the Twins considering the implications of Gomez on base without any outs. In the first, Gomez singled on a grounder through the third base/shortstop hole and Alexi Casilla followed that with a perfectly executed bunt single past the girthy CC Sabathia and slow-footed Ryan Garko at first. According to, Gomez is currently ninth in the majors with 66 runs scored when leading off the inning. When he reaches base leading off an inning, the Twins score approximately 1.69 runs that inning.

With the two speedsters on base with no outs, the Twins seemed to be guaranteed at least that amount. Another reason to anticipate runs was that Joe Mauer has been just as effective against left-handed pitchers as he had against the right. For the season, Mauer has been hitting .364/.394/.485 against lefties in 71 plate appearances. Sabathia, meanwhile, has been hit fairly well by his left-handed batting counterparts, being hit at a .255/.305/.459 clip. Mauer took three pitches, leading to a 1-2 count and sized up the fourth (a 93.7 mph fastball) that was thrown low and on the outer-half of the plate. The ball projected off of Mauer’s bat on a line that was consistent with the positioning of Indians left fielder Ben Francisco. On FSN, Bert Blyleven began to rant about Joe has failed to “pull” that pitch to successfully advance the runners. Reviewing the swing on TiVo and judging from the pitch f/x data from GameDay, it would seem that there was nothing that Joe could have done with the pitch aside from a) letting it be called strike three, b) fouling it off or c) attempting to pull the ball that would have been a turned over for a grounder to second and a possible double-play ball. But, as sharply hit as it was, Mauer failed to move the runners up and in the process became the first of twenty-seven precious outs.

This brought up Justin Morneau. For his career, Morneau had been ineffective against Sabathia. In 46 plate appearances against the Cleveland hurler from Vallejo, California the Canadian masher had accumulated just six hits (2 of which were doubles) and produced a small .167/.279/.306 batting line. Sabathia approached Morneau the same way as he did Mauer. He busted him away with fastballs and sliders. On the 1-2 pitch, Sabathia released a 94 mph fastball that was a tad up in the zone and covered more plate than he would have liked. Morneau drove the pitch towards the left-center gap at Progressive Field. Replays would show Gomez dancing off second trying to visualize where the Morneau shot would land. Gomez’s instincts must have told him that the ball was destined for sod because after the momentary pause he was off like a blaze and had already rounded third when the ball came to rest in the fleet-footed Ben Francisco’s glove. The problem, of course, was the Gomez failed to recognize that even if he stood perfectly still at second, he still had enough speed to score had the ball found grass. In 12 opportunities this year to go from 2nd to home, Gomez had done so 10 times. All he had to do was wait to see it bounce.

"He thought for sure it was in the gap and he put his head down," Gardenhire said. "But you've got to watch the ball. Obviously, he got too excited there. You have to slow the game down a bit. But it's a young man mistake."

"I saw the outfielders play deep, and I thought the ball is going down hard," Gomez said. "He hit it low, and ... I looked at the ball -- I didn't think [Francisco] had a chance."

Unfortunately for Gomez, that one run was the difference. After that inning, Sabathia cruised, shutting down the Twins for the duration of the game.

"They put the bat on the ball pretty good early and then they made a base-running mistake," said Sabathia, "From there, I tried to attack them. I didn't think about the score. I just wanted to keep it close, whatever that means, and give us a chance to win."