Thursday, April 30, 2009

Award Context: Frank Viola's 1988 Cy Young

When the Twins drafted left-handed pitcher Frank Viola in the second round in 1981, they passed on a handful of future stars in Tony Gwynn, Sid Fernandez and David Cone.  Viola may owe his draft slot to the proliferation of cable television.  In May of 1981, Viola's college career at St. John's University was punctuated by an epic 12-inning battle against the Yale Bulldogs in which Yale's Ron Darling carried a no-hitter to the 11th inning but eventually lost in the 12th.  The game was televised on a then-fledgling cable network known as ESPN which broadcasted Viola out-dueling Darling, who was rated as the nation's top collegiate pitcher. 
By signing with the Twins, Viola ensured himself a rapid rise to the big leagues.  The Minnesota Twins were in the midst of one of the largest purging cycles in their franchise history and owner Calvin Griffith had traded or declined to re-sign marquee players (such as Rod Carew and Larry Hisle) drawing the ire of the local fan base and averaging less then 10,000 in attendance at Metropolitan Stadium.  Griffith, for all of his notorious penny-pinching ways, had an explanation for his spending habits.   ''Money isn't the answer for ballplayers,'' Griffith told reporters, ''You need competition, incentive, instead of giving them all that money for doing this and doing that. Buying things only hurts them.''
After being drafted in June of 1981, Viola was in Minnesota by June 1982.  From then through 1986, Viola would go 63-64 with a 4.38 ERA, striking out 5.7 batters per nine innings.  In 1987, the 27-year-old lefty turned a corner.  He and the veteran Bert Blyleven headlined a rotation that was filled out with also-rans in Les Straker, Mike Smithson and Joe Niekro, finishing the year with a 17-10 record in 36 starts, throwing 251 2/3 innings, striking out 197 while walking 66.   Outside of his career-best 2.90 ERA, which was second in the American League only to Toronto's Jimmy Key who possessed a 2.75 ERA, his numbers were underwhelming.  Boston's Roger Clemens would runaway with Cy Young that year but Viola's performance in the post-season, particularly the World Series against the heavily-favored Cardinals (2-1, 3.72 ERA, 16/4 K/BB), would earn him the Series MVP honors and would gain the reputation of an elite pitcher. 
Expectations were high coming off their first World Series victory in team history and the Twins signed Viola to a two-year, $2.9 million contract, hoping he would build upon his 1987 numbers.  For the most part, Viola continued to produce where the previous season left off.  After losing his first start of the year, Viola would go 9-0 with a 2.20 ERA in the next twelve on his way to a 24-7 record.  As opposed to the prior season in which Viola received less then league average offensive support (4.38 R/G), the Twins lineup provided him with a healthy dose of scoring (5.46 R/G) and as such Viola's win total would increase from 17 to 24.  The Twins would slink away from contention in the AL West, falling behind the division-leading Oakland A's by 11 games in early June only to come within three games in July before falling back to second place with a double-digit deficit to overcome and remaining there for the conclusion of the season. 
Viola's Major League-leading win total (24) and AL-leading winning percentage (.774) would help elect him the 1988 Cy Young Award winner but in terms of sheer dominance he was far from the most qualified candidate.  To be sure, wins are a tough sell to the sabermetric community, like trying convince a gearhead that a car's performance correlates with the size of the tail-fins.  Aside from victories, Viola was not the leader in the most significant pitching categories, and in some instances, he failed to crack the top ten list:
  • Viola finished 3rd in ERA (2.64) behind teammate Allan Anderson (2.44) and the Brewers' Teddy Higuera (2.45).
  • He was 5th in WHIP (1.13) once again behind Higuera (0.99) and Clemens (1.06).
  • He was 8th in K/9 (6.8) well behind Clemens (9.9).    
  • Viola was 3rd in strikeouts (193) far behind Clemens (291).
  • He did not finish in the top ten for complete games, led by Clemens and Oakland's Dave Stewart (14).
  • He did not finish in the top ten of Hits/9 (8.3) while Clemens finished 6th (7.39) and Higuera finished 2nd (6.65).
  • Viola was tied for 8th in shutouts (2), again well behind Clemens (8). 
  • He was 3rd in K/BB (3.57) but a far cry from Clemens's totals (4.69).


An argument could be made that Viola was not the best pitcher in the American League in 1988.  Roger Clemens demonstrated that he was the more dominating of the two, finishing ahead of him in everything but victories and ERA (two statistics that have less to do with the pitcher then it does with the team surrounding him).  In addition to that, Clemens maintained an opponent OPS of .590 versus Viola's .642.  Viola's reign at the top of the American League would also be short-lived.  He would start the 1989 season 8-12 with a 3.79 ERA and would be sent at the trade deadline to the New York Mets for Rick Aguilera, David West, Tim Drummond, Jack Savage and Kevin Tapani

Speaking of left-handed Twins pitchers, Seth Stohs will be hosting a podcast that will have Glen Perkins as a guest tonight.  Go to tonight at 10 PM for the live chat. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Repairing the Twins lineup.

Through the first 20 games, the Minnesota Twins share the dubious honor of having the American League's least productive offense with the Kansas City Royals (4.05 R/G).  While there are numerous sources for this dip in production, ranging from Joe Mauer’s absence to the lethargy of the right-handed bats, there appears to be an easily identifiable and correctable modification to the lineup that would improve the offense: remove Alexi Casilla from the number two spot.


As I alluded to yesterday, Bill James’s research shows that a bunched lineup (a lineup constructed with the best hitters grouped together) is the most optimal alignment of the talent.  Taking it one step further, James noted in his 1986 Abstract that the correlation of run production and the position in the batting order is strongest to that of the number two hitter.  The 2009 Twins have a .515 OPS out of this slot (thanks to Brendan Harris).  Only the lowly Royals have less production with their .499 OPS from their two hitters.  The two most potent offenses, Texas and Toronto, also share the highest two spot production with .951 and .867 OPS respectively. 


Under the current structure, the Twins are sending Denard Span (.737 OPS but a robust .378 OBP), Casilla (.456 OPS), Justin Morneau (.868 OPS) and Jason Kubel (.941 OPS) in sequence to the plate.  Casilla stands out as the weak link.  For a two hitter, Casilla has demonstrated borderline plate discipline.  He exercises the highest chase percentage among qualifying second baseman (39 percent out of zone swings) resulting in a high quantity of groundballs.  His 64 percent of worm-burners on balls in play is a league-leader and nearly half of his pop flies (46 percent infield/fly ball) are not even leaving the infield area (also the highest total in MLB).  Speed has been his saving grace as he has legged out three infield hits to keep his batting average above .150. 


Among other things, Casilla has been an absolute out-machine.  His .456 OPS is lowest in the American League among those with a minimum of 60 plate appearances and behind only the Giants’ immortal Emmanuel Burriss (.433 OPS) and the Padres’ Brian Giles (.454 OPS) in all of baseball.  This productivity is reminiscent of Nick Punto’s appalling 2007 season – except Punto managed to maintain a .566 OPS through the first 20 games of that season but the Twins scored just 4.60 R/G.   By the end of May, Punto and his sub-.600 OPS were booted down to the eighth and ninth positions in the order but by then it was too late for the Twins as the team would finish 63-67.


In 2008, when Casilla hit .313/.351/.424 in 273 plate appearances through July 28th, it caught most people by surprise.  At three seasons at the Triple-A level, Casilla had hit .257/.344/.316 in 532 PAs, not lending an indication that he was capable of slugging above .400.  Following an injury in July Casilla’s batting line reverted to.225/.302/.289 in 164 PAs after his return to the lineup in August.  Most people convinced themselves that Casilla’s abilities were closer to his first portion of the season rather than the latter.  In truth, his actual production probably lies in-between the two samplings. 


The options for Gardenhire are limited.  When the Twins face a left-handed pitcher, Brendan Harris is a decent solution (career .792 OPS versus LHP), but Harris’s defense at second is a downgrade from Casilla.  Catcher Jose Morales is another candidate for the two-spot as his .839 OPS is currently third on the team while hitting line drives 35 percent of the time. 


These both are short-term answers to a long-term problem however.  Harris is a streaky hitter and Morales's produrct is sure to curtail as his line drive rate regresses back to the norm.  The definitive remedy lies on the man returning on May 1st.  Inserting the career .856 OPS hitter in Joe Mauer into the second slot ensures additional at-bats for the team’s best hitter and provides a continuation of the four best hitters on the Twins’ roster.

Monday, April 27, 2009

OtB Twins Notes (4.27.09)

When Indians starting right-hander Carl Pavano struck out Michael Cuddyer to open up the 2nd inning on Saturday night, it was the first right-handed batter Pavano had retired through a strike out all year.  Pavano has struck out 16 in 18 innings but just the lone righty.  Heading into Sunday's game, the Twins right fielder was batting a weak .224/.330/.369 while striking out in 22.4% of his total plate appearances.  Pitch selection appears to be his biggest detriment as his out-of-zone swing percent of 29.2 now ranks as the 5th most prevalent outfielder in the American League in chase tendencies (minimum 70 plate appearances).
KFAN's Phil Mackey examines Scott Baker's release point which varies from his 2008 position.  This is an excellent "cause" to the "effect" that I highlighted after his first start in which his pitches were elevated and his slider lacked bite, leading to very little chase (19.4 pct) and very high home run-to-fly ball ratios (48 pct).  It stands to reason that this lower release spot could be responsible for inability to keep the ball down in the strike zone and simple bullpen adjustments could correct this however there exists the possibility that the altered arm slot manifest itself because of a nagging injury.  Baker will get the start tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays at the Metrodome.   
In the wake of the Twins' bullpen inconsistances (6.52 ERA, 47% Inherited Runners Scored) and injuries (Pat Neshek, Boof Bonser, Jesse Crain), Kelsie Smith offers insight from a Baseball Prospectus study that showed just four relievers have maintained levels of stability since 2004 (one being Joe Nathan).  Indians general manager Mark Shapiro commented that the way to build a better bullpen is by "maintaining flexibility by not allowing yourself to get (saddled) with multiyear deals, having lots of alternatives and building the deepest farm system humanly possible with pitching so that you have the luxury and the ability to take some of your better arms and use them in the pen as well as starting."  Aside from Joe Nathan, the only member of the bullpen with a multiyear contract is Jesse Crain.  For all of the time missed in 2008 and this season, Crain is 7-6 with a 4.24 ERA in 85 innings, striking out 66 while walking 33 since signing his three-year deal in February of 2007 worth $3.75 million. 
If anyone thought trying to play musical outfielders was not going to have any reprocussions, I submit Exhibit A:  Carlos Gomez has been "noticably upset and depressed about his production" said Gardenhire.  Gomez was batting .205/.244/.308 with an inhumane 0.18 BB/K ratio (tied with Delmon Young for lowest among outfielders with a minimum of 30 plate appearances) prior to Sunday's game and sat three straight games.  When he does make contact, he maintains a 20% line drive rate indicating that he has experienced some bad luck giving him steadier playing time would go a long way towards improving his demeanor and batting average (not to mention the outfield defensive coverage).  In addition to his playing time greatly reduced, Gomez also has his first child on the way
Second baseman Alexi Casilla's woes continued against left-handed pitching.  After striking out against Cleveland's Rafael Perez in the sixth inning of Saturday's game, Casilla's RHB line dropped to .059/.059/.059 against southpaws, dropping his season totals to .186/.226/.220 with one extra base hit.  Depending on how much stock you place on Bill James's research, this could a bad omen for the Twins.  According to James's 1986 Baseball Abstract, the correlation in terms of total team runs and the position in the batting order is the strongest in the second slot, the spot that Casilla called home in 410 plate appearances last year.  Prior to his season-stalling injury in July, Casilla was batting .313/.351/.424 from May 13th until July 28th as the Twins played .567 ball.  Upon his return to the lineup in late August, Casilla hit just .225/.302/.289 and the Twins held a .416 winning percentage.      
The Twins have been targeting May 1st as the return date for catcher Joe Mauer but's Kelly Thesier suggests that Minnesotans may see him in the Metrodome even before that.  Mauer told manager Ron Gardenhire that he is feeling strong in his rehab starts in Fort Myers and would like to rejoin the team sooner than expected.  The Twins are naturally cautious with their star catcher and would like to have him catch nine innings before making any decisions to activate him.  In his three games with the Ft Myers Miracle, Mauer is 4-for-11 (.364) with a double and a pair of RBIs. 
Jim Mandelaro in Rochester informs us that the Twins' minor league free agent Justin Huber homered in his first at-bat with the Red Wings on Saturday.  The Australian native had troubles gaining access to the country and started the season on the temporarily inactive list, trying to hash out visa problems in Toronto which is why his first at-bat in Rochester came on Saturday.  According to Mandelaro, this feat was last performed by former prospect Terry Tiffee in 2004.  The one-time elite prospect for the Kansas City Royals has mashed left-handed pitching, hitting .332/.402/.519 against them in his minor league career, and could assume the Randy Ruiz role of 2009 for the Twins if the need for a right-handed power bat becomes dire.  
Josh Johnson has added to his list of prospects and is now profiling his top ten.  

Dugout Splinters has things we can look for in the upcoming series against Tampa Bay. 

Justin Murphy over at submits a This Week in Twins History. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Long way to go.

Through 16 games in 2006: 7-9, 4 games out.  Finished 96-66 (1st in AL Central).
Through 16 games in 2007: 10-6, 1 game up.  Finished 79-83 (3rd in AL Central).
Through 16 games in 2008: 7-9, 2.5 games out.  Finished 88-75 (2nd in AL Central).
Through 16 games in 2009: 7-9, 1.5 games out.  To be continued.
In honor of the Twins series in Cleveland, a special video.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Award Context: Tony Oliva's 1964 Rookie of the Year

When the Twins signed Tony Oliva out of Cuba in 1961, they assumed they had acquired a 23-year-old.  Diligent research by the Twins public relations director Herb Heft revealed that the Twins had actually received a 21-year-old who was not named Tony but rather Pedro.  Pedro Oliva, with the assistance of legendary Cuban scout Joe Cambria, switched records with his older brother Tony and decided to retain his namesake and birthday when he finally landed stateside.  Thus, Pedro Oliva became Tony Oliva who would make a rapid progression through the Twins minor league system.
While assigned to Class D Wytheville of the Appalachian League in 1961, Oliva led all of organized baseball with a .410 batting average and was promoted to the Class A Charlotte in the Sally League by the end of the year. In 1962, the Twins called up Oliva in September and gave him 12 plate appearances where he went 4-for-9.  The next season, Oliva was tearing up Class AAA Dallas, hitting .304 with 23 home runs, and was once again recalled to Minnesota where he went 3-for-7 in his seven September games. 
By 1964 Oliva had earned himself a spot within the Twins starting outfield with his big stick.  It was this ability at the plate that earned him a solid reputation league-wide.  With the conclusion of the month of May, Oliva had hit .402 (49-for-122) with nine home runs and 18 extra base hits.  Early reports began dubbing Oliva the left-handed Hank Aaron.  Arthur Daley of the New York Times titled him "the new wonderboy".  After hitting a grand slam and a solo home run against the Angels, then Los Angeles manager, Bill Rigney, quipped "I haven't noticed too much he can't hit.  It looks like we'll have to throw him spitters and hope we drown him." 

At the All Star Break of his rookie season, Oliva was hitting .335 (113-for-337) with 18 home runs while driving in 51 and scoring 63 more on his own, lifting the Twins to a 43-37 record, fourth in the American League.  The Twins' outfielder would be the only rookie among those selected for the 35th All Star Game at Shea Stadium and would finish the night 0-for-4, including a strikeout by the Dodgers' Don Drysdale, in front of the 50,000 fans on hand at the midsummer classic. 
The Twins would begin to fall out of contention post-All Star break, ending the year on a 35-47 stretch, and the focus quickly shifted for Oliva whose batting average was encroaching on the all-time rookie record of .343 set by Dale Alexander in 1929.  Oliva, too, would slow as his average would peak at .340 on July 30th after a 2-for-5 night against the Yankees.  For the rest of the season, Oliva would hit .291 (68-for-234) but would still wind up with a .323 batting average that would best Baltimore's Brooks Robinson (.317) for the AL Batting Title.  Oliva's name would also end up near the top of just about every major category in AL that rookie season:
  • 1st in hits (217), runs scored (109), doubles (43) and total bases (374).
  • 1st in extra base hits with (84), which far exceeded runner-up Rocky Calovito's (67) total. 
  • Tied for 3rd in triples (9) behind teammates Zolio Versalles (10) and Rich Rollins (10).
  • 3rd in Slugging Percentage (.557) behind Boog Powell (.606) and Mickey Mantle (.591). 
  • 4th in OPS (.916) behind Mantle (1.015), Powell (1.005) and teammates Bob Allison (.957) and Harmon Killebrew (.924).
  • 6th in home runs (32).
For this performance, Oliva received almost unanimous support for the Rookie of the Year, obtaining 19 out of 20 votes.  The lone vote went to Baltimore's Wally Bunker who had compiled a strong season in his own right, throwing 214 innings for the Orioles and while going 19-5 with a 2.69 ERA, but the fact that Oliva wound up being the first rookie to win the batting title help propelled him to the top of the voting list. 
Oliva's promising career would become mired with various injuries including what was ultimately a career-altering knee injury suffered on a diving attempt at Athletics' Joe Rudi's line drive. 

Also found at

Monday, April 20, 2009

Can we play the blame game?

The timing of Juan Morillo's acquisition could not have come at a more appropriate time.  With the news that set-up man Jesse Crain will enter the 15-day DL with an inflammed shoulder and if you thought the Twins were in need of bolstering prior to Crain's injury, post-Crain's DL stint the bullpen is waffer thin.  This past offseason the Twins had a couple opportunities to nab hard-throwing set-up men, notably David Aardsma and Juan Cruz.  Instead of trading a non-prospect like the Mariners did for Aardsma's employment or surrendering a draft pick and two year contract for Cruz, the Twins patiently waiting until the first couple weeks of the season passed then they claimed Morillo from the Colorado Rockies*.  Little did he know how immediate his impact on this bullpen needed to be. 
(*The Rockies have reached new levels of talent mismanagement within their organization.  Prior to losing Morillo to the Twins, the Rockies lost AAA first baseman Joe Koshansky to the Texas Rangers.  Last season Koshansky batted .300/.380/.600 with 31 home runs and 121 RBIs at Colorado Springs but had been block steadily by the aging Todd Helton.  Like Morillo, the Rockies tried to sneak him through the waivers but were thwarted by Texas.  Neither player may actually amount to a hill of beans but the sheer fact that there was a commodity within their system that could have been swapped for lower level prospects to replenish the developmental leagues but instead they are lost for nothing.)
The severity of Crain's injury is still an unknown.  Recovering from surgically repaired shoulders has a far greater likelihood of failure than those who are subjected to Tommy John surgery.  Frequently, those pitchers who do come back often re-tear their labrums since even when healthy a pitcher's shoulder experiences various levels of pain and swelling.  Admittedly, Crain's could be a simple case of inflammation where rest and anti-flammatory drugs will help get him back into the bullpen (but at which point Ron Gardenhire should let up on the throttle). 
Is this a clear case of poor monitoring of someone who was obviously a strong candidate to re-injure his shoulder?  In a four day span, Gardenhire used Crain three times, allowing him to pitch 3 1/3 innings as he threw 69 pitches (this does not include warmup pitches which probably put the workload into the 100+ pitch count).  On April 16th, Crain's average fastball velocity was at 94.2 miles per hour and he needed 11 pitches to get through three batters.  One day later, Crain needed 30 pitches to get just one out.  His fastball's velocity dropped to 92.7 on average and was on the disabled list by Monday afternoon.  Clearly this is a taxing workload for the healthiest of arms let alone someone who had gone through labrum repair. 
It is hard to outright blame the coaching staff as they were playing the cards they were dealt and it was apparent to even your most casual fan that Crain was the best option between the starting pitcher and Joe Nathan.  Why didn't the front office address this need in the offseason?  The company line has been that the Twins need a stable of outfielders in the event of injury.  How about the bullpen?  The team loses Pat Neshek and Boof Bonser and the front office does not flinch.  The opportunity to stabilize a crumbling relief staff was missed in the winter. 
Still, Morillo's addition and Jose Mijares's recall from Rochester in lieu of Crain's injury presents a chance for the Twins to recover from what could have been disastrous.  Keep in mind that there are plenty of other arms that could get cycled into the 'pen at AAA Rochester including Anthony Swarzak, who has a two-pitch repertoire that would play well in short inning work, and below that at AA New Britain is Anthony Slama who has nine strikeouts in five innings of work in 2009.  Yes, Swarzak and Slama are a good internal pair to have in the event of another arm emergency (along with a handful of others) but the Twins needed to solidify things in February rather than making on-the-fly adjustments in April.            

OTB Twins Notes (04.20.09)

Patrick Ruesse comments on the bulldog nature of Twins left-hander Glen Perkins.  After cruising through the first six innings, the Angels’ Bobby Abreu sent a line drive screaming back up the middle that deflected off of Perkins’ lower quad area.   The ball scooted towards Brendan Harris at third who made a nice recovery play to retire Abreu at first.  Perkins would shake off the blow and then finish off the seventh and eighth innings, needing only 84-pitches to earn his first victory of the year.  His strikeout per nine innings is still treading in the unimpressive 4.5 area but he has now entered the 8th inning in all of his three starts without getting shelled.  On 11 occasions in 2008, Perkins worked past the seventh inning and faced a total of 58 batters where he would serve up five home runs as opponents .346 off of him.  So far this year, he has faced a pool of 22 batters and have kept them to a .181 batting average. 

The latest news from the Joe Mauer camp indicates that the defending batting champ will be beginning rehabilitation games on Monday – starting with a handful of simulated games, then a stint with the GCL Twins and six with the Class A Fort Myers Miracle.  The Twins could use his defensive and offensive prowess behind the plate.  In 117 innings, Mike Redmond and Jose Morales have combined to allow 15 stolen bases - a 12% caught stealing percentage (2-of-17) - while hitting .238/.319/.286 in 47 plate appearances.   If all goes well in the upcoming minor league games for Mauer, he could be back in a Twins uniform on May 1st to face the Kansas City Royals. 

After going 8-for-10 with seven RBIs in the first two games against the Angels, Jason Kubel finally failed to reach base safely on Sunday but stung the ball around the field in some very hard hit outs.   Tom Powers points out that Kubel’s bat is one that has survived the trip north from Fort Myers, keeping his production consistent with the numbers he had in Florida this spring.  Kubel’s contributions to the lineup are often overlooked and underestimated; recently both Dave Cameron and Rob Neyer took the Twins to task for signing Kubel to a two-year contract (with a third year option).  What they failed to realize is how much of a barometer his offensive production is for the team.  When the Twins won 18 out of 21 games from June 13 to July 6 last season, Kubel batted .322/.391/.610.  His 2009 season is starting to resemble that stretch as up to yesterday’s game, when Kubel was batting .366/.395/.634.  With his line drive tendencies and occasional clout, there is no reason not to think that slugging above .500 is out of reach for him in 2009.   

Phil Miller reports that Torii Hunter has told Twins minor league director Jim Rantz that he would like to finish his career with the Minnesota Twins.  Hunter still has four years and $71.5 million remaining on his current Angels contract so the soonest he would be available to return to the Twin Cities would be in 2013 at which point Hunter will be 37 years old.  Hunter’s center field skills are already eroding, winning the last two Gold Gloves on reputation and a handful of highlight reel catches, meaning that if Torii does return it won’t be to play center for the Twins.  He does possess the ability to detonate left-handed pitching (.285/.342/.492 vs LHP) so if he plays out his current contract and retains this trait while decreasing in earning power to Griffey-levels (1-year, $2 million), he would be welcomed back in a smaller capacity role.

Miller also fills us in on relief prospect Jose Mijares, who was shipped to AAA Rochester to work on throwing strikes after a brutal spring training.  Ron Gardenhire told reporters that Mijares is throwing 93-mph now and that the Rochester club is working on bringing Mijares back up to better physical condition after the left-hander showed up to Fort Myers out of shape.   In 6 1/3 innings of work so far this year, Mijares has struck out four and walked just one while allowing two hits and no runs.  With current Twins left-handed reliever Craig Breslow having difficulties finding the strike zone (throwing 29% of his pitches for strikes) Mijares’s progress will undoubtedly be monitored closely by those in Minnesota. 

After 20 teams passed on the Rockies’ Juan Morillo, the Twins claimed him on Friday and designed Philip Humber for assignment.  The hard-throwing right-handed was given the opportunity to showcase his velocity in front of Ron Gardenhire on Saturday, which pitch f/x shows that he was hitting 98-mph at times.  Morillo’s lack of control was an issue for the Rockies as they put him on various minor league assignments to work on his command after they converted him to a reliever.  Colorado had tried to include Morillo in a trade along with Willy Taveras to the Nationals’ for Tim Redding but Washington ultimately balked at the deal, suggesting there were medical concerns with Morillo.  Morillo has the raw capabilities and at 25-years-old, he’s still a young pup.  Control is a problem, the lack of movement on his 100-mph fastball is a problem and his lack of a secondary pitch is also a problem.   Still, for the waiver fee, the Twins grabbed the type of pitcher that they were looking for in Juan Cruz during the offseason.  A combination of Mijares and Morillo in the backend of the bullpen would greatly increase the Twins late innings success. 

Looking at pitching prospect Anthony Swarzak’s 0-2 record at Rochester might raise an eyebrow, but that is the only thing that doesn’t look good about his numbers so far.  Jim Mandelaro reminds us that the Red Wings have not been able to score a run in either of Swarzak’s two starts meanwhile Swarzak has allowed just one earned run while striking out nine and walking one in his 11 inning in April.   A starter by nature, the Twins might consider bringing Swarzak up for test ride if any members of the pitching staff suffer injuries or wind up ineffective.

John Sickels looks at what he considers his all-time top five left-handed pitchers with the Minnesota Twins.   The first four might be somewhat obvious but the last, Tom Hall, is interesting.  Hall stood about six-foot even and weighed 144 pounds earning himself the nickname “Blade”.   Drafted in 1966, Hall reached the big club by 1968 and became a swingman for the team, going 25-21 in four years with the Twins and posting a respectable 3.00 ERA while striking out 431 in 455 1/3 innings pitched in that duration.  Hall’s greatest contribute to the Twins came in September of 1970.   At the end of August, the Twins were clinging to a four game lead over California and a six game lead over Oakland.  Manager Bill Rigney decided to move Hall into the rotation in the last month and Hall responded by going 5-0 in seven starts as opponents hit just .160 and struck out 61 times in 53 2/3 innings of work, averaging a game score of 71 in each of his starts.  Hall would later be traded to Cincinnati for closer Wayne Granger (who would be traded the following year for Larry Hisle). 
Josh Johnson examines the final game of the Angels series that resulted in the Twins' first sweep of the year.
Justin Murphy provides a solid write-up of This Week in Twins History at Baseball Digest. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Look At Baker's Night

Scott Baker's first start of 2009 concluded after four woeful innings in which the ordained number one starter for the Twins gave up five hits (four of which were home runs), two walks and six earned runs.  Anyone who followed Baker through the spring should not be surprised of these results: In six spring games, Baker saw nine balls clear the fence in 23 2/3 innings of work as opponents slugged a Bondsian .713 in 109 plate appearances.  Placed on the 15-day DL to recoup what was assumed to be shoulder tightness, Baker continued on Wednesday exactly where he left off in Florida. 
The early prognosis of Baker's troubles suggested that he was up in the zone.  The Star Tribune's La Velle E Neal echoed the postgame sentiment by writing that "[Baker] elevated too many pitches".  True, the majority of the home runs hit were above the waist (Scott Rolen's may have been closer to thigh high) but Baker is a fly-ball pitcher by trade and lives in the northern hemisphere of the strikezone.  The fact that his pitches were elevated alone is not necessarily cause for concern.  

Let's take a closer look at Baker's pitches in two distinctly different games.  The top graph, provided by, is his start last night.  The bottom is from a start on July 20th last year against the Texas Rangers in which Baker went eight innings and allowed just two hits (one of which was a home run) and struck out eight. 
This first series of graphs shows the view of what it would look like if you were standing between the mound and home plate watching Baker pitch from the side - only to see the ball leave trippy, multi-colored trails. 
Last night, Baker threw all of his pitches between two feet and three-and-a-half feet in height.  Last year, you see that his pitch height ranged from one-and-a-half to three feet, so there is a slight elevation on the whole.  The blue line, or his slider, has a definite plane change from the two outings.  In his successful one, his slider ended up at the one-and-a-half foot level.  Last night it was landing in the zone around three feet high. 
This graph shows the view of what Baker's pitches look like from a bird's eye view.  The bottom axis is the horizontal movement and 0.0 cuts the plate in half where as the numbers bleed into the negatives, the pitch is running in on a right-handed batter.  Conversely if the pitch moves towards the higher numerics, this represents movement at a left-handed batter.  As you can see, the four pitches showed little deviation.  The changeup - the red line - essentially follows a straight path that bisects the plate.  The slider - the blue line - is the only one of the group that follows a different path. 

Back on July 20th, 2008, you see large separation between the flight path of his pitches.  The fastball - the green line - was thrown for a strike consistently - but now the changeup has movement into a right-handed batters and the slider has a much more pronounced break towards left-handed batters.  This variation of location, much like that of speed, keeps opposing batters from focusing in on one area for all four pitches.  Comparatively, Baker's pitches had little-to-no differentiation on Wednesday night. 
The key for Scott Baker is his slider.  In 2008, Baker had a WHIFF of .278 because of the movement and location and as such Baker had his best season of his career.  Without those two variables, Baker's slider turns into an easily accessible pitch to hit.  Look for the Twins to work with Baker in regaining that sharp break towards left-handed batters and keeping that pitch at the knees. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Go-Go Going Down Looking

Through twenty-seven plate appearance in 2009, Carlos Gomez has written another chapter on offensive futility.  With a minimum of 20 plate appearances to qualify, the Twins’ center fielder has the seventh highest strikeout percentage (34.6%) among MLB outfielders and a punitive .115 batting average.  This was not the anticipated results for the center fielder who had worked diligently (maybe) with hitting coach Joe Vavra all spring to avoid the increasingly high total of Ks.  To his credit, Gomez is chasing fewer pitches out of the strike zone – he has chased 27% of pitches which is just slightly higher than the league average of 25%.  Even still, with two-strikes on him, Gomez has already mentally selected his seat on the bench.  In thirteen of those twenty-seven plate appearances, Gomez has had the count run to two-strikes and just once was he able to gain first base (through a walk).  On nine other occasions he struck out.  If Gomez is not chasing pitches as he has been in the past, why does he still maintain an inflated strikeout rate?   


There are several factors that have led to this, the first of which is pitch selection.   In efforts to revamp his patience, Gomez has taken a greater portion of pitches then he had last year.  In 2008, Gomez took 45% pitches and this year he has taken 54%.  Superficially this is a good sign but the problem is that Gomez is not taking the right pitches.  A year ago, of the 946 pitches that Gomez took, 302 were strikes (32%).  Fast forward to this year and so far Gomez has taken 50 pitches and of which 20 were in the strike zone (43%).  As such, his aggression when faced with two-strikes has subsided.  In six of his nine strikeouts in 2009, Gomez has gone down looking.   This is a huge difference from 2008 when just 30 of his 142 strikeouts were of the watching variety.    





Pitches Taken 



Pitches Taken for a Strike 




When Gomez does swing, he makes contact only 64.5% of the time which is well-below the league average of 80% contact.  In addition to that, his ability to make contact on anything thrown outside of the zone is minimal.  As noted above, Gomez is chasing fewer pitches out of the zone (27%) however when he does swing, his contact likelihood is minuscule.  Just 30% of his swings on pitches outside the zone result in the ball being put into play.  This total is the smallest contact among outfielders other than the Indians’ Grady Sizemore, who has made contact on just 27.3% during swings on balls out of the zone.  It might not be a prime pitch selection to swing at but the bottom-line is that Gomez is simply failing to make contact, resulting in the inevitable strikeout.   









OOZ Contact% 




Strikeouts aside, Gomez is enjoying far less success because of the ingrained doctrine to “take more pitches”.  In 2008, Gomez swung at the first pitch in 44% of his plate appearances.  In those 105 PA’s, Gomez produced a .426/.433/.554 batting line that resulted in 11 of his 48 extra base hits.  These were far better consequences than the league average split which was .336/.342/.554 on the first pitch.   If Gomez sunk to two strikes, his ability to hit vanished.  Under all conditions in which Gomez had two strikes on him, he wilted to a .132/.195/.375 hitter.  Even the proverbial league average hitter managed to hit a meager .196/.267/.292 with those circumstances.  In 2009, Gomez has swung at 30% of the first offerings in a plate appearance yet opposing pitchers have peppered the strike zone – throwing Gomez a strike 70% of the time.  Because of his More often than not, Gomez has allowed the count to wander into two strike territory that has given unfavorable results (0-for-12). 


Despite belief to the contrary, Gomez should be looking to pounce on a pitch early in the count, particularly the first one.   His two extra base hits have come when he was aggressive:  He hit his double on the first pitch from Carlos Silva and his triple on the third pitch from Erik Bedard.  Avoiding getting Gomez to two strikes will pay dividends for the Twins. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Notebook Dump (04.14.09)

Game: Twinks 6, Blue Jays 8
Record: 3-5


The Quote: ""Some disappointing pitches.  Luis coming in, a first-pitch slider down the middle [to Rolen] -- that's not a good pitch. We can't continue to do that, and this ballclub knows it." - Ron Gardenhire
The Inning: When Ron Gardenhire walked out to the mound with Toronto's Vernon Wells on second and third baseman Scott Rolen strolling to the plate with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, the Twins manager had little options left in his bullpen. 
Starter Kevin Slowey burned through 88-pitches in 5 1/3 innings of work, being cuffed around for thirteen hits and two home runs.  Attentive to the fact that it was going to be an early exit once again for the strike-thrower, Gardenhire briefly had left-handed reliever Brian Duensing warming up in the bullpen during the fifth inning.  Slowey, for his part, was able to retire Wells and the hot-hitting Adam Lind (12-for-30 entering the game in 2009) to strand runners on first and second, maintaining the one-run lead.  Adding two more runs on, the Twins would enter the top of the sixth with a three-run lead.  The relentless Blue Jays would stab back with a two-run home run by Lyle Overbay and it was suddenly a close game once again.  One out later and a walk to rookie Travis Snider followed by a steal of second. 
Last year, the Twins starting rotation allowed just 20 stolen bases total in the 163 games.  So far in 2009, the starters have been subjected to six swindles of second (eight total against the entire staff).  In all of last year, Slowey witnessed four out of seven attempts successfully converted.  In just two starts, Slowey has now had three attempts and three runners gaining second.  Yes, the company line is that a stolen base is the responsibility of both the catcher and the pitcher but under these circumstances, teams are runner strictly on Jose Morales and his sub-par arm. 
With a runner now in scoring position and Slowey throwing batting practice, Gardenhire decided the situation was ripe for a move.   At the onset of the sixth, the camera displayed both Craig Breslow and Matt Guerrier warming up in the bullpen.  Because the Jays had a sequence of righties following the left-handed batting Snider who was currently on second base, Gardenhire went with Guerrier.  Early returns in 2009 have seen a much different Guerrier then the one from the second-half of last year (or the second-half of the season prior to that) In a small sample of 3 2/3 innings coming into Monday's game, Guerrier had struck out three and given up just one hit.  Seventy-three percent of his pitches were strikes and eighty-percent of balls in play were on the ground.  Guerrier would fall behind and walk Scutero but would get Aaron HIll to bounce into an inning-ending double play. 

After the Twins failed to add to their 6-5 lead, Guerrier returned to the mound in the seventh to face Alex Rios, who he struck out.  Wells would lace a line drive into center for his first hit of the ball game.  With the white-hot Lind approaching the plate with the tying run on first, Gardenhire summoned Breslow.  Breslow pitched last on Sunday in the chill of Chicago to unfavorable results.  Dewayne Wise sacrificed Alexei Ramirez to second then Breslow hit Chris Getz and was removed from the game.  Two batters, one out and four pitches.  While battling Lind, Wells would snipe second base from the Twins' battery (this Morales throw would bounce half-way between the mound and second base).  Breslow, with the tying run now ninety feet closer, would strikeout Lind. 
This is where Gardenhire's tough decision would appear.  Striding to the plate was right-handed Scott Rolen.  The man assuming the stopper role in the bullpen, Jesse Crain, would be unavailable after throwing 15 pitches on Sunday and Saturday.  For his career, Rolen should little platoon tendencies.  According to his splits, lefties pitched him more gingerly, walking him more frequently than right-handed pitchers.  In recent year, however, Rolen's ability to hit left-handed pitching with power had diminished.  In 2007, he slugged .311 against 191 southpaws.  In 2008, he slugged .390 from a pool of 119 left-handers.   Last season, the left-handed Breslow would face 101 right-handed batters and hold them to a .221 average with one extra base hit in 19.  Still, Breslow had never faced the veteran Rolen.  In fact, the Twins had only a select few that had faced off against Rolen.  Rolen was 2-for-3 against Crain with two doubles, 0-for-3 against Joe Nathan and 0-for-2 against Guerrier.  Crain and Guerrier would be unavailable and Nathan is rarely woken up until the ninth inning.  Therefore the only option left to use would be Luis Ayala.
Ayala is having a fairly expected 2009.  He throws to contact and, as a result, contact is usually made.  Up until Monday night, most of it has been without its damages.  In his four innings so far, Ayala has allowed six hits while giving up two earned runs.  Most recently working in Chicago on Saturday and retired Carlos Quentin then struck out Wise and Paul Konerko.  It seems that it is performances like the one in Chicago that Gardenhire relishes and recalls when determining which reliever to use.  Yes, Rolen is 1-for-3 lifetime against Alaya with a game-winning home run in his career but Ayala shut down the Sox under meaningless conditions.  Ayala it would be.  
Ayala would unleash an 85-mph slider left up in the zone and out over the plate that Rolen would immediately lash back up the middle to score Wells from second.  With most of his bullpen used up or in remission, Gardenhire would allow Ayala to continue into the eighth inning, now working with a tie game.  Catcher Rod Barajas would hit a 2-2 fastball for a double and Snider would get an 2-0 changeup that was thigh-high middle-in and uncork on it for his second shot over the baggy on the night and vault the Blue Jays to a 8-6 victory. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Twins Notes (04.13.09)

Joe Crede received a lot of attention in US Cellular in his return to Chicago.  After helping the White Sox win the 2005 World Series, the Sox decided to allow Crede to leave through free agency only to watch the third baseman who led them to a championship four years prior sign with their biggest rivals.  In his first plate appearance back at the Cell in a Twins uniform, Crede found himself serenaded by Air Supply's "All Out of Love".  Maybe the cheesy 70's rock inspired the former Sox who deposited a 2-0 pitch from Jose Contreras into the left field bleachers for his 70th home run at the ballpark.  "A lot of fans over there above the dugout were saying, 'That's the last time you're going to get cheered here — just wait 'til you start hitting,'" Crede said. "And it came true."  Coming into Friday's game, Crede was 3-for-16 (with a questionable hit included in that total) and since then he is 0-for-8 with two strikeouts. 
Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had interesting comments towards the Twins' new found third baseman.  According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Guillen said that Crede was "cheap".  The Sox apparently have a ritual that states if the Sox would sweep an opponent, any current Sox that played for the former opponent would have to buy something for the Sox.  Naturally, Crede has never played anywhere but Chicago so he was never subjected to the ritual but Guillen claims that Crede would "always come up with the cheapest [suggestions]."
It took an eternal wait of 252 plate appearances before Delmon Young hit his first home run in 2008.  This year it was just 12 plate appearances before Young smacked a Mark Buehrle 2-0 offering into the left field seats. 
Kelly Thesier informs us that Ron Gardenhire has promised that Brian Buscher will get a start soon.  Buscher has seen action twice so far in 2009 -- a pinch hit walk in the 9th inning of Tuesday night's comeback against the Mariners and a substitute for Justin Morneau on Saturday.  "I told [Buscher], 'Stay with 'em, you'll get in a ballgame pretty soon,'" Gardenhire said. "He's the only guy that I really haven't gotten in a game enough."
Last Wednesday, Mauer reiterated that there would be no timetable for his return while working out in Fort Myers, so the next few days will be a real test for Joe Mauer's back reports La Velle E. Neal.  After running in a pool to alleviate stress on the back, the Twins catcher is finally ready to run on dry land.  Mauer has been taking batting practice and bullpen sessions without experiencing any pain, however, it has been the running that has caused the most discomfort. 
The Star Tribune's Sid Hartman made an altogether not-so-subtle jab at Mauer's durability.  Says Hartman, "Mauer has also missed more than 150 games since his first season in 2004. Mauer missed 124 of those in 2004 when he suffered two different injuries at two different times. He did miss 30 games in 2007, and now he has missed six and likely will miss 25 or so this year."  The ancient columnist continued, adding "On the other hand, Justin Morneau played in all 163 games last year."  Drawing this parallel is like wondering why a person who runs a marathon is a tad more winded than the one who jogged around the block.  Former Giants catcher Bob Brenley once said of catching "By the end of the season, I feel like a used car."  Even Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who never caught an inning in his life, recognized the strain placed on the body and mind when choosing to squat behind the plate.  Jackson said "Get up. Get down. Get up again. Get down. Come up throwing. Take the chest protector off. Take the shin guards off. Hit. Put them back on. Go back behind the plate and repeat the process. Catching just breaks a man down, inning by inning, game by game, year by year."  Needless to say, the toll taken on the body between first and catching is vast. 
Joe Christensen submits the possibility of the Twins trotting out new uniforms to coincide with the inaugural year at Target Field.  Christensen suggests that the Twins should "[p]ermanently pack away those sleeveless vest alternate home uniforms, once preferred by Livan Hernandez. Or simply burn them."  I'm all for some updates, so long as none of which result in the the 1999's season's Turn Ahead The Clock uniforms

The Pioneer Press's Charley Walters needs to be given a pamphlet on statistical context.  On Saturday the columnist wrote "Mike Redmond is hitting .400 and has been just about everything the Twins could have hoped for while regular catcher Joe Mauer recovers from a back injury." Yes, at the time of publishing, the Twins backup catcher was batting .400 after starting two games and going 2-for-5.  By the end of the day Saturday, Redmond was a .222 hitting catcher.  By sundown on Sunday, Redmond was a .166 hitter after an 0-for-3 night against the White Sox.
Seth Stohs provides game notes for the weekend and updates on the entire organization. 
Nick Nelson gives his take on the three-game series in Chicago. 

Josh Johnson hands out his Game Balls for the Twins this past weekend. 

The Twins will face Jesse Litsch and the Toronto Blue Jays at the Metrodome starting tonight. In four starts against the Twins, Litsch is 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in 26 innings pitched with nine strikeouts and four walks.  Delmon Young is 4-for-13 (.308 BA), Morneau is 3-for-10 (.300 BA) and Brendan Harris is 3-for-8 (.375 BA) with a solo home run. 

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Game: Twinks 6, Marinerds 5

Game: Twinks 6, Marinerds 5
Record: 2-1

The Quote: "We worked on that play in Spring Training and I fouled it up the only time I tried it in a game. This was better." - Mariners reliever Chris Jakubauskas
That must have been running through Twins' right fielder Michael Cuddyer's head as he tried in vein to reach back to second base ahead of the Mariners' pickoff attempt.  With a nonchalant flick of his glove, Mariners' catcher Kenji Johjima set the pickoff play in motion.  The 30-year-old rookie on the mound, Chris Jakubauskas, spun counterclockwise and fired a bullet to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt who broke to the bag on Johjima's signal.  Cuddyer did everything he could to do, short of snapping his ankles, to redirect his weight back to his right.  Betancourt applied the tag and the Mariners vacated the field at the end of seven without any further damage done, down by just the one run.
Replaying that sitaution, it was one-part inspired and one-part crazy.  With Cuddyer on second after a two-out double, the Mariners decided to put Justin Morneau on first.  Intentionally walking Morneau was nothing new.  In 2008, Morneau was issued 16 free passes intentionally, tied with the Angels' Vladamir Guerrero for league lead.  With a two-run home run and a run-scoring double already on this game's resume (plus his one-hopper to Jose Lopez was sorched as well), the Mariners figured that Morneau was zeroed in on Wednesday night.  What was curious about the decision was that the Mariners were opting to pitch instead to the left-handed Jason Kubel.  Maybe not as dangerous as Morneau, Kubel was still 2-for-3 with a run-scoring double of his own.
The Mariners made the personnel decision in 2009 to begin the year with no left-handed options in the bullpen, so there was no possibility of a LOOGY to match-up against Kubel.  Jakubauskas, an alumni of the independent Pioneer League, was throwing fairly well, already retiring five straight Twins before Cuddyer's extra base hit.  While the Twins and the rest of the spectators were busy contemplating the thought-process behind the Mariners' actions, little did they know the Mariners were about to pull some tomfoolery out of their hats.
Yes, it was a low percentage-type play that had a strong likelihood of imploding in their face.  An errent Jakubauskas throw could have wound up in center field, allowing Cuddyer and Morneau the opportunity to advance.  At the very least, the play may not have worked at all, pressing the need to pitch to Kubel now with two men on base.  Still, the entire sequence was ingenious.  A rookie manager in Don Wakamatsu, who has no previous track record for other teams to note his tendencies, called for the play at the perfect moment.  Like a magician, Wakamatsu provided misdirection when he walked Morneau, placing the focus on Kubel.  Cuddyer meandered off second too far and too lackadaisically as he attempted to get his two-out lead from second.  When Jakaubauskas pivoted, Cuddyer was dead in the water. 
Fortunately for the Twins, Jesse Crain and Joe Nathan combined to shut down the Mariners in the eighth and ninth innings to keep the one-run lead intact and give the Twins their second victory of the year.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Award Context: Jim Perry's 1970 Cy Young Award

perry-1.jpg image by stco0501Signed as an amateur free agent in 1956 by the Indians out of Campbell University, the 6-foot-4 right-handed Jim Perry quickly worked his way to Cleveland as a 23-year-old in 1959.  Working as mostly a reliever and a part-time spot starter, Perry finished his first year 12-10 with a 2.65 ERA in 153 innings of work, finishing behind the Washington Senators' Bob Allison in the Rookie of the Year voting.  In his sophomore season, Perry would led the American League in wins (18), starts (36), shutouts (4) and home runs allowed (35) while tossing 261 1/3 innings for the Tribe.  This performance would earn him a spattering of MVP votes as the Indians finished 76-78 in 1960. 
Between 1961 and 1963, Perry's career would divest from its original tracks as he would go 22-29 in 417 1/3 innings of work, and watched his ERA bloat to 4.44 as his strikeout rate dipped to 3.5 per nine innings.  When the Twins acquired Jim Perry from the Cleveland Indians, they traded for a 27-year-old swingman that had promise but was mired with a franchise that continued to miss the .500 mark in the early 1960s.  Upon his arrival to Minnesota, two things differed and had an immediate impact on his results: offensive and defensive support. 
While a member of the Indians, the Tribe scored 3.92 runs per game.  After relocating to Minnesota, Perry's new team was scoring an average of 4.76 runs per game.  The Twins also provided Perry with far superior defense -- one that was 70 fielding runs above average compared to the Indians that would be 17 fielding runs in debt.  For a non-strikeout pitcher that is reliant on the eight other guys on the field, that was a huge advantage.  Because of this, from 1964 to 1969, Perry would go 65-36 in 226 starts, post an ERA of 2.72 and increase his strikeout rate to 5.5 per nine innings of work. 
In 1970 the Twins won their second AL West championship in as many years, going 98-64.  In 40 games, Perry would go 24-12 with a 3.04 ERA, tied for the league led in both wins and games started and eventually being named the Cy Young Award winner that season.  You could construct a strong argument that two Baltimore pitchers, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar, were both as qualified for the award as Perry.  Cuellar, the fourth-place vote getter and 1969 co-Cy Young award winner, led the league in winning percentage (.750) and complete games (21).  Perry, however, topped Cuellar in several key categories:
  • Perry's WHIP (1.130 - 2nd in AL) was superior to Cuellar's (1.149 - 4th in AL).
  • Perry allowed fewer walks per nine innings (1.841 - 2nd in AL) than that of Cuellar (2.086 - 4th in AL)
  • In spite of having fewer overall strikeouts, Perry had a better strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.947 - 2nd in AL) than Cuellar (2.754 - 4th in AL).
Even though both McNally and Cueller managed to replicated Perry's win total and starts (24 and 40) there total appears to be a byproduct of a potent Baltimore offense.  The Orioles scored the pair more than a run above league average (5.17 and 5.32, respectively) and, unlike McNally and Cuellar's 24 wins, Perry's two dozen appear far more genuine when you consider the Twins generated 4.47 runs per game when he was on the mound.  Furthermore, McNally (.697) and Cuellar's (.667) had higher OPS against than Perry (.643).  In this context, Perry's 24 victories is a much better total.
The one pitcher that had a legitimate complaint about the final voting is Cleveland's Sudden Sam McDowell.  From 1965 to 1969, McDowell had led the league in strikeouts every season except 1967 when Boston's Jim Lonborg beat him by ten total (and with two additional starts).  In 1970, the 27-year-old southpaw ended the year with a 20-12 record while playing for an Indians team that won 76 games.  McDowell's 305 innings, 304 strikeouts and 8.9 K/9 led all American League pitchers.  In addition to that, several other key statistics reveal that McDowell's overall season was better than Perry's:
  • His ERA (2.92 - 5th in AL) was better, albeit slightly, than Perry's (3.03 - 8th in AL).
  • McDowell gave up far fewer hits per nine innings (6.694 - 2nd in AL) than Perry (8.3).  
  • He struck out (8.9 - 1st in AL) three more batters per nine innings than Perry (5.4). 
  • McDowell averaged Game Scores of 63 while Perry averaged 56.
  • McDowell had a lower OPS against (.619) than Perry (.643).  
McDowell would have the disadvantage of not only playing for an Indians team that not only gave him pitiful run support (4.05 runs of support per game below the league average of 4.17) but his team was 32 games behind in the division.  The Sporting News would agree with McDowell's case and name him the AL Pitcher of the Year in 1970.  But regardless of the method, voters rewarded Perry for his gaudy wins total to narrowly beat out Baltimore's Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar and Cleveland's Sam McDowell to give the Minnesota Twins their first Cy Young award winner. 
Also found at

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Notebook Dump (04.07.09)

Game: Twinks 1, Mariners 6
Record: 0-1

The Quote: "I'm a little concerned. A little more than normal. I never go in the training room. I've never pulled a muscle, or anything." - Mike Redmond
The bright side about Mike Redmond's injury is that my piece on Drew Butera may suddenly be relevant again. 
Ken Griffey hit his 8th opening day home run and his 25th career home run at the Metrodome when he redirected a Francisco Liriano offering over the baggy.  If there is one person that will miss the Metrodome it will be Griff.  His 25 at the facility is Griffey's most at a stadium that wasn't his home field and his 41 total against the Twins is his most against any opponent. 

Joe Mauer's absence in the third spot exposes a large hole in the Twins offensive strategy that led to a potent run-scoring lineup in 2008.  In the top of the first, Denard Span walked and Alexi Casilla laced a single, putting runners on first and second with no outs.  Under these circumstances over the course of his career, Mauer has had 144 plate appearances and is 47-for-130 (.362 BA) with a 7.6% strikeout rate and grounding into 12 doubleplays.  Without the availability of Mauer, Ron Gardenhire opted to use Michael Cuddyer in the third spot.  There is plenty to like about the decision to use Cuddyer third but advancing runners is not his strong suit.  Cuddyer has had 211 plate appearances in those same conditions and is 52-for-191 (.278 BA) with a 20% strikeout rate and has been doubled up 20 times.  In this occasion, Cuddyer failed to advance Span and Casilla as he struck out (one of three on Monday).  Being able to advance Span and Casilla up one base would allow for Justin Morneau to bring in Span via sacrifice fly or both on a base hit and losing that ability will decrease the Twins scoring opportunities. 
Joe Christensen says that Denard Span looks like a natural out in left field.  Considering that the Twins' left field candidates last year combined for a UZR (ultimate zone rating) of -25.2 and left is the most expansive corner outfield at the Metrodome, having Span patrolling the landscape in front of the Home Run Porch will be a welcomed addition. 
Check out Geoff Baker's Seattle Time Mariners' blog throughout the series with the Twins.  Baker does a great job of providing updates and images throughout the series.
You sit around, trying to enjoy your beer on the plaza with a conveniently placed Twins World Champions banner behind you, eagerly awaiting the start of the 2009 season and - BAM! - someone snaps your picture and before you know it, it's posted on Yahoo!... 
If you are around your computer tonight, tune into Seth Stohs' podcast at 9 pm.  I'll be joining Seth who will be talking to Twins minor league pitcher Tom Stuifbergen (of Netherlands WBC fame). 

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Twins Notes (Opening Day)

Oddsmakers are suggesting the Twins have a 20-to-1 shot at winning the World Series in 2009, placing them sixth on the list.  Up top are the Yankees (3-to-1), Cubs (11-to-2) and Red Sox (7-to-1) while pulling up the rear are the Nationals (100-to-1), Royals (100-to-1) and Pirates (150-to-1). 
Looking for a last minute ticket to the Twins home opener?  Charley Walters reports that "on-street ticket brokers" (also known as "scalpers") will be asking $30 for the upper deck cheap seats that retail for $8 to the soldout event.   
Tom Powers presents a less-than-flattering remembrance of the Metrodome on the eve of the 27th and final home opener under the Teflon sky, recalling sewage problems, rat infestations and overall terrible odor.  When speculating whether or not he will get nostalgic, Powers say "It's like the late, great sportswriter Dick Young said when asked for a comment on the death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson that morning: 'Yesterday he was a (bleep). Today he is a dead (bleep).'"
On the other side of the river, Patrick Reusse reminds us of the unsightly sight-lines of the Dome that can be devastated by fans with the smallest of bladders.  Reusse also denounces the powers-that-be in the early 1980's that came up with the contraption to hide folded football seats, otherwise known as the Baggy (or Baggie, depending who you ask).  As rinky-dink as the entire operation is, the Baggy was the one feature that gave the Metrodome an identity.   
Kelsie Smith summarizes the current Twins sentiments regarding the Dome Field Advantage.  Smith points out that the advantage didn't always favor the Twins, recalling one situation in 2007 against the visiting Brewers.  The game start with Torii Hunter being struck by a Jeff Suppan pitch in the first and Ron Gardenhire was forced to replace his defensive stalwart with Lew Ford in center.  For his part, Ford had a good game at the plate, going 2-for-3 and driving in four runs.  His efforts in center, however, nearly cost the Twins the ballgame.  In the top of the ninth, with a comfortable 9-7 lead, Joe Nathan came on for the save.  His first opponent was the girthy Prince Fielder who launched a fly ball towards the ceiling in center.  Lew being Lew, sprinted in the opposite direction of where the ball was heading and Fielder chugged his way around the bases for an improbable inside-the-park home run.  The Brewers eventually tied the game up but the Twins were rescued by a Justin Morneau walk off home run.  
At STATS Blog, Thom Henninger inspects the Twins pitching staff's home/away split which reveals that at the Dome pitchers possessed a very solid ERA (3.27) while the numbers inflated nearly two runs on the road (5.10).  An explanation for the discrepancy isn't readily available either.  According to's new fielding page, the Twins were actually worse on defense at the Dome (-41.8 FRAA) then they were on the road (-33.8 FRAA).  What it appears to be is that the Metrodome's configuration greatly muted the opposing team's power attack.  While at the Dome, opponents hit 0.99 HR/9 but managed to pick up the pace to 1.27 HR/9 away.  Likewise, opponents found extra base hits harder to come by at the Dome (2.74 XBH/9) versus outside (3.49 XBH/9) leading to a better slugging percentage away from Minneapolis (.396 H vs. .467 A).
Joe Christensen presents both sides of the Pitch Count Debate.  Christensen notes that the Twins frequently allowed Brad Radke to encroach on the 120-pitch count to which Gardenhire said that the following outing, they could expect Radke to be less effective.  In February, I inspected Radke's usage patterns by Pitcher Abuse Points which shows that Tom Kelly allowed Radke to throw high amounts of pitches early in his career.  This patterned subsided when Gardenhire took the helm.  "If I hadn't been on a pitch count, I might not have been able to throw half as much as I did." Radke said
The Mankato Free Press's Ed Thoma notes that the 2008 Twins had 72 sacrifice flies (five short of the 1984 Oakland A's record setting team).  Hitting sacrifice flies, much like fouling off two-strike pitches, is not, in essence, a skill that can be maintained.  On average, players hit medium-to-long flyballs in 18% of the sac-fly situations and averaged 18% in all other situations.  The Twins were just adept at getting baserunners to third to allow for a sacrifice condition. 
Last Thursday, Rob Neyer stated "The Twins are always operating on the margins because, with the notable exceptions of Mauer and Justin Morneau, they don't have any excellent non-pitchers (unless you count Denard Span, and I don't yet). Take away one of them and replace Baker with R.A. Dickey -- and yeah, I love the knuckleballer, but c'mon -- and you're looking at a .500 team. At best."  Although I have disagreed with Neyer's assessment of the Twins' offensive talent in the past, his prediction is fairly accurate.  Depending on the length of the pair's tenure on the DL, it stands to reason that it would cost the team approximately five wins.  By the way, Mauer tells Phil Miller that it will be weeks, not months before he returns to the lineup.
While Jim Souhan opines about the longevity of the modern pitcher-batter match-up -- erroneously blaming Bill James, Billy Beane and Michael Lewis for the increased value in walks -- he fails once again to see the big picture.  Consider that since 1901, no team that has finished last in the league in walks has won a World Series.  In addition to that, according to 2000 Baseball Scoreboard, the teams that did finish last in walks had a combine winning percentage of .415.  Eliminate pitch selectivity to appease your fans that want to go to bed by 9:15 and you hasten your team's winter break.   
Baseball announced that the Royals-White Sox opening series will not start on today as scheduled due to weather conditions in Chicago, instead, the festivities in the Windy City will commence Tuesday.  Of course, there are mind-boggling considerations needed when designing a 162-game schedule for 30 teams but the season opens with two teams that have roofs over their respective stadiums playing each other meanwhile another series opens in a northern climate that is often subjected to this kind of weather throughout the first few weeks of April. 
The Salt Lake Tribune looks at the successes and failures of the Large, Medium and Small market clubs.  Once again to perpetuate a common fallacy, the writer lumps the Twins within the "small market" category and describes them as "poster child for small market success".  According to the 2007 census reports, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is ranked 16th in size, just 100,000 fewer people than that of "medium market" Seattle-Tacoma.  The Twin Cities is also larger than several noted "medium market" MSAs, including St Louis and Baltimore.  The Twins should be described more accurately as the poster child for small budget success. 
La Velle E. Neal is hosting a live chat at 12 to talk the upcoming 2009 baseball season. 
Aaron Gleeman provides his predictions for the Twins season and all of baseball for that matter. 
Seth Stohs has the rundown of the roster situations organizationwide.  Stohs, the content editor here at Baseball Digest for the Twins, will be joining John Bonnes, the TwinsGeek, for a nightly postgame podcast at  Be sure to turn in to listen to the two best pair of talking heads in the Twins blogosphere.
Nick Nelson is finally announcing he is officially solo.  (It's like the moment KC finally left the Sunshine Band.) His blog is redesigned for the 2009 season. 
Josh Johnson looks at the full Twins roster and lets us know where it compares with the 2008 version. 
At Twins MVB, the gang offers up their speculations on the 2009 season while Twinkie Town gives theirs as well.
Random Twin factoid:  John Smoltz tells the New York Times that the Twins' Nick Punto is one of the better golfer's in the Major today. 

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Notebook Dump (04.02.09)

Game: Twins 1, Rays 2
Record: 17-13 (5th in Grapefruit)
The Quote: "You hope that you sign with an organization that tells the truth, and you hope that you perform well enough to put the ball in their court, and I feel like I've done that." - R.A. Dickey
UPDATE: The Twins placed Scott Baker on the 15-day DL due to shoulder tightness.  Francisco Liriano will now assume the Opening Day duties.   With Baker on the DL, the Twins are looking at using R.A. Dickey as the 5th starter to face Chicago next Friday.  Baker's injury might explain why he had such a rough spring - in 23 2/3 innings, he struck out 16 and walked three while allowing nine home runs leading to a 6.85 ERA.  It was obvious that Baker's command was good, however, he was very hittable.  Though I cannot provide any evidence that his velocity was down this spring, shoulder injuries are usually a cause of that.  As I outlined in March, Baker's stuff is quite good, so the hope is that this is nothing more than "tightness". 
A lead-off home run by Gabe Gross was the difference as the Rays topped the Twins 2-1.  Battling for a spot in the bullpen, R.A. Dickey tossed four innings of three-hit ball, striking out three and walking one.  Dickey was relieved by Philip Humber whose three innings of work was marred by the Gross home run.  Humber's spring had been far more tumultuous than of Dickey's.  In 14 innings, Humber has posted a 8/2 K/BB ratio with a 5.14 ERA. Dickey, meanwhile, has pitched 17 2/3 innings this spring with a 18/4 K/BB ratio with a 2.04 ERA.   Even with the performance discrepancies, Humber should get the nod over Dickey to open the season since transitioning Humber to AAA requires the Twins to expose him to waivers. 
After being informed that he was going to be the temporary backstop while Joe Mauer is on the mend, Jose Morales wept openly in from of manager Ron Gardenhire, reports Phil Miller.  The selection of Morales over a superior defensive catcher in Drew Butera was justified by GM Bill Smith because of Morales's experience above AA and his offensive capabilities that exceed that of Butera's.  For his part, Morales immediately reassured everyone of this decision by promptly going 0-for-3 and allowing FIVE stolen bases against the Rays.
Injuries abound for the Twins as Brian Buscher, Delmon Young, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Crede all were suffering from various ailments.  None are serious, most likely wear-and-tear from the extended spring training season this year. 
In one of the more enlightened articles provided in the Star Tribune's print edition, Joe Christensen looks at the Twins defense through John Dewan's The Fielding Bible, Volume II and provides a decent primer to those that are unfamiliar with Dewan's defensive rating system.  In addition to that, Christensen slices up some more Twins defensivey goodness in his Around the Majors blog, particularly how bad Delmon Young's defense actually was outside the commonly accepted fielding statistics (RZR, UZR, fielding pct, etc). 
USA Today ranks the Twins 9th overall and looks at their outfield surplus. 
Geoff Baker reports that the Seattle Mariners returned Jose Lugo to the Twins.  Lugo, whom the Mariners acquired from Kansas City after the Royals selected Lugo in the Rule 5 draft, threw 7 1/3 innings, recording one strikeout, walked three and surrendered two earned runs for them this spring.  In 69 innings at Ft Myers in 2008, Lugo struck out 76 and issued 36 walks with a 4.43 Runs Allowed Average.  One year ago the two franchises were able to work out a deal as the Twins accepted catcher Jair Fernandez as compensation for R.A. Dickey under similar circumstances.  Unlike Dickey, who had MLB experience, the 24-year-old hard throwing reliever had yet to pitch above high-A so his return to the organization was expected.  The Twins have assigned Lugo to New Britain. 
David Brown over at Yahoo! Sports features a quirky Q&A with Twins closer Joe Nathan discussing non-topics such as the Twins commercials, other people named Joe Nathan, the facial hair habits of closers and encounters with UFOs. 
The Baggy will no long adorn the Dodge Ram emblem as it had the past several years.  In the Dome's final year, Stanley Works, a manufacturer of security systems, tools and other products, will have the rights to the advertising on the blue tarp.  In addition to the premium space, Stanley Works will sponsor the two Web cams that have been in use since 2007 which allows viewers to witness the construction of Target Field. 
Seth Stohs gives his Top 15 Baseball Movies in the event Twins fans need a weekend of DVD-watching to remind them baseball season is indeed upon us here in Minnesota despite what the weather suggests. 

At Baseball Digest, we're providing our candidates for Breakout Player of the Year.  Though his playing time is contingent on Joe Crede, how about Brian Buscher for a Breakout candidate?  So far this spring, Buscher has hit .380/.467/.500.  With Crede hitting .167/.245/.292 through spring, there is still the outside possibility that Buscher winds up being that left-handed platoon partner afterall.