Sunday, May 31, 2009

OtB Twins Notes (06.01.09)

Charley Walters reports that the Twins are not quite ready to discuss figures with Joe Mauer yet.  Twins Sports Inc president Jerry Bell cited former Twin greats in Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek as similar players who accepted lower overall contracts to remain in Minnesota and believes that Mauer will follow suit.  Speculation is that offers could easily reach the $20-mill per year range when teams like the Yankees and Red Sox reach for their checkbooks.  This is not too far from his current production value.  According to evaluation, Mauer was worth $22.4 million in his 2006 season and $26.4 million last year despite being paid $6.4 million and so far in 2009, Mauer's obliterating his previous worth by providing $11.9 million in May alone.  Bell says contract negotiations will transpire after the All Star break. 
A strained right groin landed shortstop Nick Punto on the 15-day DL.  After signing Punto to a two-year, $8 million contract in hopes of solidifying their shortstop position, the Twins have received seriously below average offensive output thus far in 2009 (in case you were wondering, by the's system Punto currently owes the Twins $1.6 million of production).  The league-average for a shortstop has been .274/.329/.385 as Punto and Brendan Harris have supplied a meager .226/.307/.228 for Minnesota.  Early rumors suggest that Pittsburgh's Jack Wilson, Cleveland's Jhonny Peralta and Toronto's John McDonald might be available on the trade market, none of whom are the least bit intriguing if the Twins decided to go that route. 
La Velle E Neal says right fielder Michael Cuddyer left the second inning of Sunday's game with a strained right index finger and will be day-to-day with his injury.  "It was a little stiff from [Saturday] night," Cuddyer said. "I came in this morning and it was a little sore. Then I fouled a ball down the left-field line and it just blew up."  Cuddyer has been on a torrid pace in the month of May hitting .315/.398/.657 with eight home runs, three triples and seven doubles adding 26 RBIs in 108 at-bats.  His 1.056 OPS for May was third on the team trailing Joe Mauer (1.338) and Justin Morneau (1.056).   
Kelsie Smith notes that Francisco Liriano's days in the rotation might be numbered as Glen Perkins gets set to return from the DL after some rehab starts.  Pitching coach Rick Anderson believes that Liriano's struggles with runners on base is due to mental issues rather than mechanical ones (opponents are lugging .614 off of the lefty when there are runners but slugging just .415 when the bases are empty).  When asked if the Twins would consider sending Liriano to a sports psychologist, manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters that it is "a touchy subject. It's not an easy thing. We've had players do that before. We have doctors that, if we think this is becoming a real mental issue for them, yeah. Those options are always available if a guy is really, really struggling, and if you have to do that, you have to do that. I would think that my pitching coach is probably better at that stuff. Mentally, he can relate to players as good as anybody, and he's got a calming influence on them."
Last week, Yahoo! Sports's Gordon Eves listed the Twins among potential suitors for Red Sox starter Brad Penny.  With Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano at a combined 4-13 with a 6.48 ERA, the Twins may want to consider some outside help but Penny's 5-1 record aside, he's not an upgrade.  Currently sporting a 5.63 ERA, Penny's strikeout rate is down to 5.6 K/9 and has averaged under six innings per start.  The record looks pristine because of 6.17 runs of support comes in handy while opponents slug .522 off of you.
Twins farm director Jim Rantz -- along with Paul Molitor and Tom Kelly -- was in Rochester scouting the team that has been playing poorly as of late raleys Jim Mandelaro.  The Red Wings are having offensive issues with Matt Macri (.193 BA), Brock Peterson (.159), Trevor Plouffe (.224) and Jason Pridie (.224).  Rantz appears confident in Macri and Pridie's ability to rebound from the slow start given their longevity at the AAA level.  
Former KFAN personality and current Your Voices writer at the Star Tribune, Doogie Wolfson, echoed the sentiment that Steve Phillips is a moron when it comes to making comments on baseball teams.  
Include Matt Garza on the list of people tired of hearing about the trade that sent him to Tampa Bay in 2007: "It's over and done with," Garza said. "I was a Twin two years ago. I'm a Ray now, and I'm more about the here and now. I have bigger things to worry about, my mentality, how I'm going to approach this outing."


Monday, May 25, 2009

Twins lacking a true leadoff hitter?

Former Mets general manager and current ESPN commentator Steve Phillips mentioned during the seventh inning of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball broadcast of the Twins/Brewers game that Minnesota was swiftly becoming a complete team with one exception: a true leadoff hitter.  Phillips gestured that the Twins do have Denard Span in that role but that he thinks of Span more as a "seventh hitter".  This was an interesting assessment of what has been viewed locally as the best leadoff hitter the Twins have seen since the departure of Chuck Knoblauch.  Piquing my curiosity, I had to figure out what would inspire Phillips, someone who has access to data and analysis, to make such a comment?  Have we as Twins fans been fooling ourselves on the importance of Span at the top of the lineup?
Through Monday, Span was hitting .302/.390/.407 (above the leadoff-average of .268/.343/.407) making his current value derived from his on-base ability much higher then that of your common leadoff man.  True, his walk rate of 10% is just league-average indicating that his .390 on-base percentage is slightly inflated by a sturdy .338 batting average on balls in play.  Then again, Span managed to maintain similar numbers in 2008 under the same pretenses.  As a quick groundball/line drive hitter, it stands to reason that Span's BABIP would be higher than league average. 
His walk rate aside, Span has a patient and selective approach to the plate.  He is tied for eighth in the American League in lowest swinging percentage (38%) which has led to a very good 3.94 pitches per plate appearance.  He does not strike out much but when he does, he goes down looking.  In fact 62 percent of his strikeouts are looking which leads the league and as such his selectivity has resulted in 16 of his 26 punchouts.  As an admission there are far greater sins than to strikeout looking, even Phillips should know that.  Span also has great contact ability, connecting on 93 percent of his swings.  Only Toronto's leadoff man, Marco Scutaro, holds a better contact rate than Span (Scutaro is also the AL's leading walks leader). 
Phillips never did reveal what about Span's approach made him balk at his candidacy as a leadoff hitter.  If I had to speculate why he felt as such, my guess would center on his runs scored total.  In the first month of the season, Span scored just 10 times - a byproduct of the lack of production in the order behind him.  In comparison, Scutaro scored 24 times for the Blue Jays while the Rangers' Ian Kinsler scored 18 times.  Span got himself on base nearly 40% of his plate appearances yet was frequently stranded.  In many ways, Span's run scored numbers in April was like that of Joe Nathan without any save opportunities.  It is a hard statistic to compile if your offense or the game score isn't compliant. 
Does this mean that Span is an ill-suited leadoff man?  Absolutely not.  On base abilities, selectivity and contact.  These are qualities shared by some of the game's better leadoff hitters.  Getting on base that frequently, especially someone with speed like Span, usually leads to huge gains on the scoreboard - even more so when you purge your lineup of your larger out-makers in the number two spot (Casilla, Tolbert).  Since moving the league's best hitter to hit second, Span has scored five times in three games.  Keeping Joe Mauer batting second will ensure that Phillips never underestimates Span's skills again. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Award Context: Rod Carew's 1977 MVP

Rod Carew's path to the bigs was far from ordinary:  Born on a train in the Panama Canal Zone and receiving his name from the Jewish physician that delivered him, Carew's family immigrated to New York where he attended George Washington High School (the same school as Manny Ramirez). It was there while playing semi-pro ball in the Bronx that he would be discovered by a Minnesota Twins' scout.  "In Manhattan, we lived about two blocks from the old Polo Ground," Carew told columnist Ed Rumill in 1967, "The Mets were playing there then, in 1963.  But offers came from other clubs.  The Red Sox, White Sox, Yankees, Pirates, Tigers and Twins all talked to me about signing.  The Yanks and Pirates invited me to tryout camps, but I didn't go.  I worked out with the Twins when they came to New York."
Carew would burst onto the Major League scene, quickly ascending to Minnesota in 1967 after three years in the minors.  A UPI reporter would credit much of the team's success that season to the nimble infielder, writing "[t]he slim Carew, whose dash and hitting ability has been a prime factor in the Minnesota Twins' pennant contention this year, has already gained one important laurel in his freshman campaign, namely being selected to the starting All-Star team, the only rookie so honored."  His first of many All-Star appearances was just a prelude to his eventual Rookie of the Year award, hitting .292 with 8 home runs and 51 RBIs while batting second for a Twins team that would finish 91-71 - one game behind the American League pennant winning Red Sox. 
From 1968 through 1976, between the ages of 22 and 30, Carew would hit .332, winding up a perennial All-Star, MVP candidate and winning the American League batting title in five of those nine seasons.  It was 1977 and his quest for .400, however, that would solidify Carew's presence in the annals of baseball history.  That season Carew would get off to a great start, hitting .349/.412/.512 in his first 21 games.  On April 30th, Tigers pitcher Dave Roberts took exception to Minnesota's six early runs and would plunk Carew in his second plate appearance of the game.  Carew, a tenacious competitor, would retaliated by throwing a punch at Roberts and be excused from the remainder of the game.  A month later on June 26th, on Rod Carew Jersey Day at Metropolitan Stadium no less, Carew would go 4-for-5, scoring five times and driving in six thanks to a grand slam to push his average above .400 to .403 for the first time that season.  For an encore the next night, the 31-year-old Carew would steal home for the 16th time in his career against the visiting Brewers.     
The remarkable average notwithstanding, Carew was also on pace to break two prestigious offensive records: George Sisler's 55-year-old record of 257 hits and Joe Jackson's record of 26 triples set in 1912. Carew became a national sensation.  Baseball fans across the country took notice and elected him to his 11th straight All-Star game - setting a record for most votes ever (4.29 million votes).  Shortly thereafter, Time Magazine placed him on their cover declaring him the game's best hitter.  Sport Illustrated trotted out Ted Williams from his New England fishing hole to deem Carew the only batter alive worthy of being included in the .400 club.  Ballplayers in both leagues would marvel at his abilities.  White Sox shortstop Alan Bannister would note "He's the only guy I know who can go 4-for-3" while Royals center fielder Amos Otis conjured up a down-home proverb, suggesting that "trying to sneak a pitch past him is like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster."  Don Sutton, then a Los Angeles Dodger, perhaps echoed the feelings of National League pitchers everywhere in response to interleague game proposals: "I hope it comes a) after I have retired or b) after Rod Carew has retired." 

Carew would cool off in August (comparatively) and he would start the season's final month with a .378 average, making the .400-mark all but out of reach.  Even as the Twins toiled away in fourth place, Carew hit .439 in September to finish the year with a .388 average.  At the conclusion of the 1977 season, Carew would be at the top or near the top of the leaderboard in almost every major category:
  • His .388 batting average would top the next closest finisher in the American League, teammate Lyman Bostock, by 52 points and winning his sixth batting title.  Not only that, but his .388 average would be the highest in twenty years (matching Ted Williams's 1957 average). 
  • His .449 on-base percentage would be the best in the AL. (Because he was on base consistently and batting in front of Larry Hisle, Hisle was able to finish first with 119 RBIs). 
  • Carew's sudden outburst of power, a surprising .570 slugging percentage, would be second only to Boston's Jim Rice's .593.  
  • His OPS of 1.019 was baseball's best, beating out George Foster of the Red's 1.013. 
  • Carew's 128 runs scored was 22 more than Carlton Fisk's 106.  
  • His 239 hits would be the most since Heinie Manush had 241 in 1928.     
  • His 16 triples would be the most in the AL.
  • Carew was intentionally walked 15 time by opposing teams, the most by any AL batter.


The Twins found themselves well out of postseason contention but Carew's performance was more than enough to secure him his first and only MVP award as his season was undoubtedly one of the all-time greatest in a Twins or any other team's uniform.  His 1977 season was the first in a three-year contract with the Twins - a contract that was viewed as as an outrageous steal for one of the game's most preeminent hitters.  During his run at .400, it was pointed out that Carew's $170,000 a year was well-below that of similar talent Joe Morgan ($400,000) and Steve Garvey ($333,000).  Following his MVP season, Carew watched as two teammates in Hisle and Bostock were allowed to leave via free agency, signifying the long-harbored sentiment that the Twins have little interest in retaining high-priced players (My how things change).  In the 1977-1978 offseason, Twins owner Calvin Griffith would go on record as saying "If I ever traded Rod Carew, I might as well hop on a plane and get out of Minnesota."  Griffith kept his word until January 1979 when the Twins traded Carew to California for Ken Landreaux, Dave Engle, Brad Havens and Paul Hartzell. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gomez's plate discipline improving, Young still needs work

Beginning the season as Ron Gardenhire’s pariah, center fielder Carlos Gomez spent the latter portion of April watching left fielder Delmon Young turn routine plays into extra bases.  When afforded the opportunity to play, Gomez displayed dazzling defense but a mind-bogglingly bad approach to the plate.  Young, on the other hand, would be terrible at both.  So as Gomez’s superior defense rotted on the bench, only to be called upon as a late innings substitute, Young was given the lion’s share of playing time.  Ultimately, the decision to play Young over Gomez is all that much more curious when you consider that the pair have been the exact same hitter. 


In the initial month of the season Gomez showed no indication that he had a better understanding of the strike zone or had improved his pitch recognition.  In almost a continuation of last year, pitchers would set him up with breaking stuff well outside the strike zone and the eager outfielder would flail with little hope of contact (just 43.5 percent) resulting in 11 punchouts in 44 plate appearances and a .195 batting average in April.  As bad as Gomez was, Young was actually worse.  Aside from Jose Morales, Young swung at the highest amount of pitches outside the zone in the month of April (37.8 percent) and, moreover, made less contact with those pitches (37.8 percent) and wound up striking out in 15 of his 58 plate appearances.  What seemingly gave Young the advantage is that he had several more balls bleed through the infield thus giving the appearance of a better hitter than Gomez with a .241 batting average.   



OOZ swing%
















This current month Young and Gomez have the same amount of plate appearances and, once again, Young’s better average gives the look of a better hitter.  A closer inspection reveals that Young’s .345 average is boosted by a .455 batting average on balls in play –- an unsustainable figure considering he had a 60 percent groundball rate –- while his chase numbers basically stayed the same (with the exception of putting more of those chased pitches into play).  Gomez, meanwhile, trimmed the number of swings outside the zone down significantly and because of which, he drew more walks.  What makes this transformation all that more impressive is that Gomez has seen the amount of non-fastball offerings increase from 48 percent in April to 55 percent in May, yet he would lay off the enticing off-speed stuff.    




OOZ swing%
















With Young on bereavement leave, Gomez is demonstrating that his consistent presence in the lineup is a boon to his production.  Undoubtedly his improved pitch comprehension is directly associated with his regular playing time but having Gomez in the field for nine innings rather then as defensive replacement at the end of the ballgame is beneficial for the pitching staff.  True, he is still an eager outfielder who will hack at the first pitch following seven-straight balls and other miscellaneous youthful mental errors but his recent plate approach marks noteworthy progress from the key dividend of the Johan Santana trade.   


Monday, May 18, 2009

OtB Twins Notes (05.18.09)

Even with the loss, the Joe Mauer-Brett Gardner play was sick.  Swine flu sick.  (Editor's note: it would feel much better if it happened in a Twins' win.)  According to the Star-Ledger's Colin Stephenson the Yankees center fielder Gardner, who Mauer tagged with a diving save attempting to score in the bottom of the ninth, believed Mauer was throwing to first on the play.  "I didn't really think he was going to hold on to the ball, to be honest with you,'' Gardner said. "I thought he was going to throw it to first, and if he had, I would have been able to get home a little easier than what ended up happening.''  Gardner added advice that teammate Nick Swisher shared with him, "[he] was telling me I should have hit the brakes, because he would have dove right past me."
Yankees manager and former catcher Joe Girardi was also in awe of the play telling reporters "This is a young man that is an incredible player. He could have went to probably any college and been a quarterback; you see what he does with the bat - two batting titles in the last three years, his defense is very good - he's an all-star player every day when he goes out on the field. And the athleticism he showed to get a very speedy runner is incredible.''  Girardi failed to add: "He'd look great in pinstripes next year."
The three consecutive walk-off wins against the Yankees wasn't the first time for the Twins in their history says New York Daily News's Jesse Spector.  The Twins first lost three straight walk-off games to the Yankees in August 1961.  Of course, circumstances were vastly different that year as the Twins entered that series 46-58, 21 games out of first place, while the Yankees were 67-37, holding off the Tigers by a game-and-a-half lead.  The Twins would finish that year 4-14 in games against the eventually World Series champion Yankees.    
Why did Mark Teixieria blow up at Carlos Gomez in the eighth inning on Saturday night following bang-bang play at first base?  "It was a situation twice in the same game, the guy is running in the infield grass going up the first-base line, trying to get in my way, the catcher's way and the second time there is a collision. No reason for it," Teixiera told reporters after the game. "Same guy. It happens one time. It might be a mistake but when you know the guy is purposely running on the grass . . . I've seen a lot of first basemen ruin seasons, ruin careers. I got lucky that I could get out of the way." Clearly this was an over-exaggeration of a player that had been frustrated and struggling as of late since signing his massive contract as Teixiera was hitting just .203 coming into the Twins series.   
There have been two instances in which intentional walk situations have burned the Twins this series.  On Friday in the bottom of the ninth with two runners on, the Twins opted to walk Robinson Cano, who was 11-for-57 (.193) in the month of May, to have Joe Nathan pitch to Melky Cabrera, who was 15-for-49 (.306) that month.  Cabrera, of course, would lace the single to left-center to score two runs.  One day later, the Twins had similar circumstances with Nick Blackburn in the eighth inning of Saturday's game.  With two outs and the tying run on third, Blackburn could have faced Teixiera - who was slugging .625 on the month in addition to him being 5-for-5 against Blackburn - or Alex Rodriguez - who was slugging just .385 on the month and had hit 3-for-9 against Blackburn.  The Twins would allow Teixiera to hit and he would knock in the tying run to push the game into extra innings (at which point A-Rod would hit his walk-off). 
Joe Christensen reports that the Twins have been looking within the system to repair the bullpen which is now in dire need of attention.  The relief staff has failed in critical situations and have been taxed to the point of exhaustion.  Coming into Sunday's game against the Yankees, the Twins had allowed 47% of inherited runners to score, the second highest in the league (average being 38%), while manager Ron Gardenhire has used his pitchers on consecutive days a league-leading 25 times.  Candidates include Rochester's Sean Henn and Bobby Keppel while speculation surrounds Luis Ayala as the potential odd-man out if someone is brought up soon. 
The 28-year-old Sean Henn is an attractive internal left-handed option.  In 24 innings spread out across 15 appearances Henn has struck out 32 while walking 10 - limiting opponents to a .187 batting average against.  The 6-foot-4 Henn - who Christensen writes is touching 95-mph on the radar gun - has been lights-out when facing left-handed batters.  In 36 match-ups against lefties, Henn has struck out 15 while walking just one and getting groundballs on more than 60% of balls in play.  He does not exercise the same invincibility against right-handed opponents as his control has been a bit shakier.  If the Twins curb his right-handed exposure at the major league level, Henn stands a chance of being a very good LOOGY for the ballclub.     
ESPN's Peter Gammons indicates that Huston Street, Russ Springer, Jose Valverde, John Grabow and Danys Baez might be available now that their respective teams have fallen quickly out of contention.  The Twins had offseason aspirations of Russ Springer who eventually selected the Oakland Athletics over the Twins because of their west coast setting and larger financial offering.  The 40-year-old Springer is having a good season for the A's, throwing 16 innings and striking out 18 with an ERA of 2.25. 
What about Anthony Slama and Rob Delany in New Britain?  Christensen says that the Twins feel that the pair are not quite ready to move up to the bigs but The Hartford Courant's John Altavilla provides the Rock Cats manager Tom Neito's take on the late inning duo.
Tom Powers visits a topic that has been of concern for the Twins in recent days: the pitch count.  Powers suggests that the Twins' 100-pitch count for a starter is a detriment to the bullpen, leading to injuries in the relief staff.  Philosophically, this is a much large debate to fit into a handful of words but Powers' argument is fairly weak.  Though I agree that the arbitrary 100-pitch count should have increased flexibility, it has been proven that not monitoring pitch counts have led to various arm injuries over the years.  Even still, the Twins are no more or less sticklers than the rest of the league; consider that the Twins have gone over 100 pitches but under 119 in 15 of 37 starts.  As I alluded to previously, Gardenhire has used pitchers on back-to-back days 25 times.  Durability aside, this is not a starting pitcher issue, it is a game management issue.  What hurts his relievers the most is that Gardenhire's confidence is isolated to just three members when the game is close.  
Reliever Pat Neshek, who is out indefinitely for the duration of the 2009 season, speaks to the Star Tribune regarding his transition to veganism and also gives a brief insight to Ron Gardenhire's sense of humor in the clubhouse.  Neshek said "Like Gardy [manager Ron Gardenhire], he'll make fun of me and stick a hot dog in my face and say, "You want to eat this?" A lot of guys are curious."  In the immortal words of Arrested Development's Michael Bluth: There's got to be a better way to say that.  
The Twins are pitching in an additional $13 million to add several more features at Target Field including
more bathrooms and a heat supplied main concourse for those obviously cold April and October games along with roof top seating.  According to the Associated Press, the roof top seats will accommodate approximately 150 to 300 fans and be within the confines of the stadium (similar to Fenway Park's Green Monster seats) and reside above the team's administrative offices in left field.  Twins President Dave St. Peter says that with final designs available shortly, but notes the team is even considering adding a fire pit - a quintessential component of Minnesotan summers - to the experience. 
The City Page's Judd Spicer writes that Joe Mauer 's 672 career hits rest with very good company among fellow baseballers' first 572 games.
Mankato Free Press's Ed Thoma has upgraded his baseball blog to begin allowing comments.  His first post in the new format is riddled with rules for commenting.  Score!  Despite writing in one of the far-flung outposts of Minnesota, Thoma has produced one of the state's most insightful commentary outside of the Twin Cities metro area. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Starting Five: An Analysis of the Twins' Rotation

A brief rundown of the starting rotation through the first 33 games of the season:
Scott Baker
1-4 Team Record in Starts | 6.83 Runs Allowed | 4.29 Run Support | 43 Game Score Avg
27 2/3 innings | 21-to-5 K-to-BB ratio 
.274/.305/.540 Opponent Batting Line
The season did not start out the way Baker and the Twins envisioned after signing him to a long-term contract this past offseason.  Shoulder problems delayed the beginning of his 2009 season and when he returned, he began by allowing home runs at an absurd pace - in his first three starts he surrendered a home run every 10 plate appearances - while his 16 earned runs in just 14 innings of work resulted in a 9.82 ERA and a myriad of questions regarding his health and effectiveness.  Baker lasted an average of five innings per start with an opponent average against of .328. 
Baker's lateral movement on his slider returned in the month of May and his location of his fastball lowered in the zone.  As such, opponents have begun to chase more pitches (38 percent OOZ in May versus 24 percent in April) and the amount of infield flyballs versus home run flyballs have inverted as well (8 percent IFFB/29 percent HRFB in April starts vs 32 percent IFFB/5 percent HRFB).  His past two starts have been a microcosm of the performance he displayed last year.  Aside from one inning against the Royals on May 3rd Baker has not allowed a run in 12 out of his last 13 innings as opponents have been limited to a .204 batting average.  It is safe to assume that Baker is back on track.  
Francisco Liriano
3-4 Team Record in Starts | 6.04 Runs Allowed | 3.79 Run Support | 47 Game Score Avg
40 2/3 innings | 33-to-16 K-to-BB ratio 
.250/.328/.441 Opponent Batting Line
After going 6-1 with a 60-to-19 K-to-BB ratio and a 2.74 ERA in his 65 innings from August 3rd to September 26th of last year, it was presumed that Liriano would carry this into the next season.  His velocity was back up and his secondary offerings were getting more swing-and-misses but it was a far cry from his 2006 version.  No rational fan assumed that Liriano was waltzing back in through the Dome's revolving doors this year but even still this F-Bomb 2.0 had seemed to have found a way to keep opponents off-balance without the dirty slider.  His first four starts in April were littered with control issues - 9 walks and two hit batsmen in 21 innings with pitches in the zone 44 percent of the time - in addition to that, an overwhelming portion of those baserunners were crossing the plate (57 percent LOB pct) leading to his 6.04 ERA. 
In his two most recent starts, Lirano's accuracy has improved (50 percent zone presence) and he has gotten more missed bats at pitches outside of the zone (72 miss percent on swings on swings out of the zone) after increasing the usage of his slider and changeup in the month of May. 
Though his overall approach might be different, in Lirano's last start against the Mariners he was tagged for three extra base hits and five earned runs in five innings.  The right-handed batting Mike Sweeney, Jose Lopez and Adrian Beltre accounted for all of the extra base hits.  His one trouble spot is right-handed batters thus far in the season as righties are slugging 123 points higher than the left-handed opponents.  In 2006, Liriano used a diet of non-fastballs (57 percent) against right-handed batters.  Last season Liriano had curbed this (47 percent) while this year has seen him thrown even fewer non-fastballs to them (42 percent).  More non-fastball offerings should help quell this onslaught.       
Kevin Slowey
5-2 Team Record in Starts | 4.91 Runs Allowed | 6.79 Run Support | 45 Game Score Avg
40 1/3 innings | 27-to-4 K-to-BB ratio 
.337/.352/.547 Opponent Batting Line
Slowey's 5-1 record will undoubtedly earn him the reputation as the Twins' best starter to date - which is merited when you look at his K-to-BB ratio - but examining some of his other numbers also indicate that he has been damn lucky too.  True, his three inning loss to Baltimore was cruel and unfair considering the weather-related circumstances, but Slowey has been the benefactor of nearly seven runs of support per start which has helped him grab those five victories in spite of posting Game Scores averaging 45 and opponents slugging .547 off of him.  If that pace continues Slowey will wind up being this season's Glen Perkins.
His ability to get ahead (67 percent first pitch strike) and stay ahead (only 11 percent of batters have had three ball counts) has ensured that batters will have to find gaps in the defense to get on base.  In the early portion of the season, there have been more holes than usual as he has an unreasonably high batting average on balls in play (.390) that will drop as the season progresses and with it, the overall average against.    
Glen Perkins
2-4 Team Record in Starts | 3.73 Runs Allowed | 3.02 Run Support | 55 Game Score Avg
41 innings | 22-to-8 K-to-BB ratio 
.245/.287/.361 Opponent Batting Line
So this is what below-average runs support feels like?  A year ago Perkins received 12 wins thanks to 6.23 runs per game.  In his first start of the year, Perkins threw eight innings of one run ball but the Twins failed to score a single run that game.  In his next start he held the surprisingly powerful Toronto Blue Jays lineup to just two runs but was not the pitcher of record when the Twins won the game in the 11th inning. 
Perkins has been cuffed around in his last three starts allowing 13 earned runs in 17 innings of work.  Opponents have found seams with groundballs and launched three home runs in that span (as a pitcher that is flyball heavy, this was bound to happen).  What is noteworthy is that his line drive rate is down from a year ago and he has been more successful versus right-handed opponents.  Both of these shifts is courtesy of the increased use of his slider.  In 2008, Perkins used his slider just 4 percent of the time to righties while this year he has thrown it 16 percent of the time.  In turn, righties are hitting just .226, down from .288 last season. 
Nick Blackburn
4-3 Team Record in Starts | 5.24 Runs Allowed | 5.04 Run Support | 46 Game Score Avg
41 2/3 innings | 19-to-11 K-to-BB ratio 
.285/.326/.401 Opponent Batting Line
Nick Blackburn simply does not have the luxury of having his walk rate inflate.  As a contact-oriented pitcher, Blackburn thrives on keeping additional runners off the bases but with his BB/9 up to 2.38 from 1.82 a year ago, it throws this system out of whack.  More baserunners means more runs are likely to cross the plate.  Up until his most recent start, Blackburn possessed a nerve-wracking 13-to-10 K-to-BB ratio, a dangerous ratio for a control pitcher.  If anything, Blackburn's last start against Detroit reaffirmed the notion that he is in control and is able to hit his spots.  Blackburn finished seven innings, allowing just five hits and no runs while tying his career-high strike out of six.

Blackburn's line drive rate is down considerably (15 percent versus 21 percent) while his groundball rate has gone up (48 percent versus 45 percent) which is a good sign from the right-hander.  What Blackburn needs to figure out is how to keep lefties from smashing him around the ballpark (.488 slugging) in addition to what exactly is keeping him from throwing well on the road (.497 slugging away from Dome). 

Monday, May 11, 2009

OtB Twins Notes (5.11.09)

There will be plenty of second-guessing on the removal of starter Nick Blackburn after the seventh inning in the Twins 5-3 loss on Sunday.  Former Twins pitcher and radio analyst Jack Morris questioned lifting Blackburn after 99-pitches, assuming there should have been plenty left in the tank.  This exact formula worked well for the Twins on April 24th against the Cleveland Indians when Blackburn threw seven innings of one-run ball on 99-pitches and gave the ball to left-handed set-up man, Jose Mijares.  Mijares pitched a scoreless eighth inning and relayed the ball to Joe Nathan who would secure the save. 
Carlos Gomez, who went 1-for-4 with a highlight reel catch in center to rob Seattle's Endy Chavez of an extra base hit on Sunday, has been the subject of a heated debate among Twins analysts regarding where he is best served playing: Majors or minors.  One camp votes Minnesota - where his defense provides immeasurable value and receives on the job training.  The other says Rochester - where his approach at the plate can be refined and he can return as the complete package.  Both views are not without their merits.  La Velle E Neal notes however that Ron Gardenhire's vote is that Gomez should be in Minnesota for the foreseeable future where he can work with hitting coach Joe Vavra.  "I think this is an opportunity for him to get with Vavra a lot, work on his swing in the cage and do the cage stuff and work on his swing plane and [hitting] breaking balls," Gardenhire said.  This is an interesting comment considering the timing of's Jerry Cransick's latest article on the development of plate discipline.  Cransick notes that "technological advances in scouting allow teams to readily identify and exploit hitters' weaknesses" making it extremely difficult for someone struggling to adjust at that major league level. 
Gomez is swinging at a lot of bad pitches.  He is also failing to make contact with them.  The disciplined-challenged Gomez has made contact with just 38.5 percent of pitches he has swung at out of the strike zone (league average for contact is 62.3 percent).  Vavra might want to consider taking a drill out of Cransick's article:  When Nick Swisher was working his way through the Oakland A's system, he worked with hitting instructor Joe Sparks who devised a drill in which Sparks would throw Swisher pitches and Swisher would have to shout "yes" or "no" before the ball reached the plate to improve his pitch recognition. 
USA Today reports that manager Ron Gardenhire left the game in the third or fourth inning.  Gardenhire, not feeling well, retreated to his office in the clubhouse where he watched the rest of the 9-6 Twins victory over the Mariners on Saturday night.  The Twins skipper cites a new exercise routine and diet that he has been practicing lately as the cause of the passing illness. 
Joe Mauer wants to catch everyday says Sid Hartman.  Undoubtedly, the Twins agree with the sentiment, however it is still a little premature to trot Mauer out there as a catcher six out of seven days.  The Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal suffered from a sacroiliac joint sprain (similar to Mauer) that sidelined him in 2007 but reoccurred in 2008.  Furcal exploded out of the gates last season, hitting .366/.448/.597 with five home runs in 32 games before surgery was required that kept him out of the lineup until September.  The Twins should continue to exercise restraint with Mauer catching to avoid a similar fate. 
With Alexi Casilla now in rehab-mode in Rochester, Phil Miller informs us that General Manager Bill Smith has no intentions of shopping for a replacement second baseman.  Smith believes that Casilla will have to opportunity to work with Red Wings manager Stan Clinburn who had helped former Twins shortstop Jason Bartlett regain his confidence and composure following a 2006 demotion.  Bartlett would return to the Twins in 2006 and would hit .281/.347/.381 - above-average production from the shortstop position - after his minor league stint.  In three games since being sent to Rochester, Casilla is 6-for-14 (.429) with one triple. 
In the same article Miller also raises the point that the Twins' middle infield depth in the minors is shallow - so much so that there is chatter about re-positioning center fielder Ben Revere, currently in Ft Myers (High-A).  Revere has two things that make this transition seem plausible: the first of which is sheer athleticism and the second is an overwhelming amount of high-quality center fielder candidates in Carlos Gomez, Denard Span and Aaron Hicks.  One year removed from flirting with .400 and being awarded the Twins' Minor League Player of the Year, Revere's power has been drained at a more advanced level.  Through 29 games, Revere is batting .308 but is slugging just .350.  His high contact rate and disconcerning eye at the plate makes him an excellent candidate for a move in the Twins' system - if his glove accepts the conversion.   
Jim Mandelaro writes that the Twins had released left-handed reliever Ben Julianel to make room for Alexi Casilla.  The 29-year-old Julianel fared well in his stint at New Britain last year when he dismantled opponents half his age, accumulating 26 saves while striking out 78 in 68 1/3 innings with a 2.37 ERA.  Moved up with Rochester for 2009 the lefty struggled posting a 8.18 ERA in 11 innings of work and striking out just 8.  Julianel's future in Minnesota appeared bleak because of his accelerated age but with the recent struggles of Craig Breslow and now Jose Mijares, the Twins may consider pulling up all the left-handed relief help they can getting, including Julianel's former bullpen mates at Rochester Sean Henn (20 innings, 24 Ks) and Mike Gosling (18 1/3 innings, 24 Ks).
New Britain Herald's Ken Lipshez talks with general manager Bill Smith regarding his organization after his recent trip to Connecticut.  Smith has taken heat over some of his dealings from both bloggers and mainstream media since his promotion to his current position.  Questions have been raised regarding the Santana and the Garza-Young trade that have not been favorable of the GM.  "I never mind questions and never mind when somebody evaluates a deal," Smith said. "That’s part of baseball. That’s why the media is there to interchange between the ballclub and the fans. Ask questions and provide responses – that doesn’t bother me."
Nick Nelson presents a theory that the Twins are playing Delmon Young over Carlos Gomez because they need to inflate his value in order to trade him.  With that in mind, Aaron Gleeman initiates the Free Carlos Gomez movement.'s Tim Kurkjian's latest column provides context of the Twins' general professionalism on the roster.  Kurkjian revisits Michael Cuddyer's humble reaction to being selected 9th overall in the 1997 draft and illuminates how the outfield mainstay has provided leadership within the clubhouse. 

Thursday, May 07, 2009

He sucks. We must have him.

Dave Cameron spent yesterday afternoon highlighting Alexi Casilla's suckitude at writing "Casilla has driven Minnesota's management nuts with his sloppy plays, his lack of fundamentals, and his general underachievement" and adding "his OPS by month has declined every single month since last May, where he went from great to good to okay to really bad to miserable to holy crap we've seen enough."  In other words, garbage.   

He finishes by insinuating that Casilla's time in Minnesota is probably over and that the second baseman could stand to have a change of scenery.  Understandable, considering Casilla's mental lapses may have reached the room of Gardenhire's dog house that was previously reserved for the likes of Kyle Lohse and JC Romero - a pair that found a one-way ticket out of the Humphrey Terminal at the earliest convenience.  If the Twins are currently convincing themselves that Casilla is not a long-term answer at second - be it because of talent or attitude or irreconcilable managerial differences - then if they can get something useful in return, I'm game.  But who would want to acquire a player like Casilla with his offensive statistics in a complete freefall and has more cringe-worthy mental lapses than Miss South Carolina?  According to Cameron at his mothership website, Seattle does!  Cameron urges the Mariners' general manager to contact Bill Smith to inquiry what it would take to land Casilla. 

In Cameron's vision, the Mariners offer their starting shortstop, Yuniesky Betancourt, who is in jeopardy of losing his starting job to Ronny Cedeno for Casilla.  "Yuniesky", of course, is Spanish for "Swing".  The Mariners' have gone weary of Betancourt's overzealous approach to the plate, averaging just 3.1 balls per plate appearance (If you thought Delmon Young chased bad pitches, Betancourt has swung at 44 percent of all balls thrown outside the zone).  So far in 105 plate appearances in 2009 Betancourt has drawn just one walk.  For better or worse, the Twins place less emphasis on drawing walks system-wide so this information might not be a deterrent, but it should. 
True, Betancourt displays some of the characteristics that the Twins crave (not striking out, tons of contact, speed) and Cameron adds "[t]he things that he fails at - drawing walks, working counts, living up to his defensive reputation - are the things that the Twins value less than anyone else in baseball. Betancourt and the Twins are a match made in heaven. He’s their kind of player. No other organization in the game will see as much value in Yuni as the Twins."  But do the Twins really need help at short defensively?  By most metrics, Nick Punto is far superior of a gloveman than Betancourt.  According to the UZR/150, Betancourt is a -27.5, third worst in the game, while Punto is 11, the fifth best in the game. 
The proposal gets worse as Cameron suggest that the Twins add reliever Jose Mijares to even the deal.  Yes, ADD.  If trading one young, expensive out-machine for a young, inexpensive out-machine isn't objectionable enough, Cameron recommends that Smith toss in Mijares, arguably the best relief option in the 'pen, to "even the deal".  Outside of swimming in a sea of swine flu-infected medical waste, there is nothing less appealing than adding Yuniesky Betancourt at the expense of Casilla and (especially) Mijares. 
Cameron's thesis is sound - Casilla should be traded if he is indeed destined for Gardenhire's version of playing time purgatory - however what the Twins do not need more of is free-swingers in the lineup. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Casilla out; Tolbert in.

The Twins demoted second baseman Alexi Casilla to Triple-A Rochester recalling Matt Tolbert to assume his roster spot reports the Star Tribune.   The move is not all too surprising, though it does contradict recent comments by manager Ron Gardenhire who just this past weekend stated that he did not wish to "ship [Casilla] to somebody else because he was not hitting right now." 
This about-face was most likely incited by Casilla's defensive shortcoming in recent games. His offensive woes followed him on to the field, too.  Following a play in which Casilla did not throw home on a cut on Tuesday night, allowing Tigers catcher Gerald Laird score, Justin Morneau told reporters after the 9-0 whitewashing "A lot of them are mental mistakes that don't show up as errors, like not thinking to throw the ball home. Not thinking of the play ahead of time before it happens."  Gardenhire can stand idly by while a player struggles at the plate, but when those struggles are carried on to the field, it is time for adjustments. 
Casilla's continued failure in a vital spot in the batting order amplified his struggles.  After making 13 valuable sacrifice hits last year, Casilla has yet to prove that he can even lay a bunt down.  On Monday, his lack of hustle ended up as a Tigers' double play. Up until this point, Casilla was 14-for-84 (.167) with just two extra base hits on the year.  At the plate, his discipline appeared lacking in the first month.  His chase rate for pitches outside of the zone was up to 34 percent, well above his 25 percent a year ago (and the league-average of 24 percent).  Because of his poor pitch selection, his contact suffered, resulting in more infield pop flies. 
Tolbert provides above-average versatile defense, giving Gardenhire another utility infielder that can support Brendan Harris and Nick Punto at the middle infield positions.  At the plate, Tolbert is a prototypical line drive hitter with a smattering of power.  Seven of his 25 hits at Rochester this far have gone for extra bases. After an injury sidelined him in May, Tolbert returned in September to go 10-for-30 (.333) with three triples in 11 games. 
With the left-handed Mark Hendrickson on the mound for the Orioles tonight, the Twins will likely use Harris at second base and in Casilla's spot in the order.

Monday, May 04, 2009

OtB Twins Notes (05.04.09)

Joe Christensen says the Twins sent catcher Jose Morales to Rochester after they activated Jesse Crain from the 15-day DL.  Morales has been a decent contributor in Joe Mauer's absence, hitting .349/.391/.419 going into Sunday's game but allowed 13 of 14 would-be base stealers to gain an extra base.  There will be some dissension regarding demoting what happens to be the third-best hitter on the team to the minors, but Morales's average was unsustainable (he possesses a highly-inflated .405 batting average on balls in play) and was bound to watch his numbers drop like the stock market as his plate appearances increased.  With the 38-year-old Mike Redmond on the last year of his contract and unlikely to return to the team as a player in 2010, it is nice to know there is someone in Triple-A that is a capable catching caddy for Mauer's days off.    
After getting an MRI performed on his shoulder last Wednesday, catcher Mike Redmond told reporters that "they found a Bud Light in there."  Phil Miller tells us that the backup catcher's quip pleased the people over at Anheuser-Busch, enjoying the free promotion in a tough economy (the quote wound up in both Twin Cities papers and, that the company is rumored to have supplied Redmond with a few bottles for personal consumption.   
The Twins decision to send reliever Juan Morillo to the minors was a sound one.  Though his potential upside is certainly intriguing -- getting comparisons ranging from Detroit's Joel Zumaya to Durham's Nuke Laroosh --his walk rate flirts with the "pitching while blindfolded" territory.  Even with Rick Anderson working with Morillo in bullpen sessions, Morillo's type of repair would have been too consuming for Anderson to correct during the season.  Still, if nothing else, Morillo's 100.3-mph pitch in April was the fastest recorded in the season's opening month.
Ron Gardenhire reiterated that he has no immediate designs on sending Alexi Casilla back to Rochester for more work after beginning the season.   "We're [25] games into the season. I think you start one way, you give it a little bit here. We have to get Lexi to play better, not just ship him to somebody else because he's not hitting right now," the manager told Joe Christensen.  His Sunday benching aside, Casilla stung several line drive outs on Saturday night from the left-side of the plate, an indication that he might be beginning to zero in on the ball better.  Matt Tolbert, a potential replacement for Casilla at Triple-A, is struggling at the plate as well, hitting 18-for-84 (.214) with a .290 on-base percentage.     
In the aftermath of Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury's steal of home off of New York's Andy Pettite  (and Royals' catcher Miguel Olivo's botched attempt on Saturday night), Dom Amore revisits 1969 and the master of home stealing, Rod Carew, and his seven swipes of the plate that season.  It was rookie manager Billy Martin's idea in the spring to exploit both Carew's speed and the league's indifference to pitching from the stretch with a runner on third.  Martin and Carew would run the drill over and over, timing a pitcher's wind-up as Carew would break for home.  Carew would go 7-for-9 in his quest of stealing home but a leg injury would keep him from getting more.       
In an otherwise minor transaction, the Twins traded Double-A New Britain outfielder Joe Gaetti to the Texas Rangers for a player-to-be-named-later.  Gaetti, the son of Twins great Gary Gaetti, has proven that he has tons of pop but does not play any position particularly well (he got his mother's defensive gene).  At the time of the trade, the 27-year-old Gaetti was hitting just .179 (5-for-36) with a brutal 14/1 K/BB ratio which makes it hard to provide roster space to an aging prospect that is no longer hitting.
Former Twin fan favorite Lew Ford has resurfaced with the Long Island Ducks of the Independent Atlantic League after being released by the Colorado Rockies following spring training reports Newday's Cody Derespina.  To add insult to injury, after being released by the Rockies Ford accepted the Ducks' offer in April and loaded his truck up to drive from Florida only to have the vehicle breakdown en route.  "His truck broke down in some podunk town and they wanted to charge him an arm and a leg for it and now he's got to have [the truck] shipped," Former MLB catcher and current Duck manager Gary Carter said. "So I'm sure he's got a lot of things on his mind, and once that works its way out, he'll get back to basics and play." Ford was a big contributor on the 2004 Twins team and batted .299/.381/.446 (.827 OPS) with 15 home runs and 72 RBIs while stealing 20 bases as a 27-year-old.  His plate discipline eroded quickly in the next several seasons as his walk rate dropped from 10.2 percent in 2004 to 7.6 percent in 2005 to 6.3 percent in 2006 and with it, his on-base percentage slid from .381 in 2004 to .287 in 2006 making his inevitable breakup an easy decision.   
Twins pitching prospect Bobby Lanigan is having a super start to the 2009 season in Low-A Beloit, not allowing a run in 11 consecutive innings.  In four starts, Lanigan is 2-0 in 22 innings with a 3.68 ERA while maintaining a 21/5 K/BB ratio and a 54 percent groundball rate.  Drafted in the third round in 2008, Lanigan, a Staten Island, NY-native, has had a rough transition after losing his father late last year. Jay Price of the Staten Island Advance has a must read article on how the Lanigan's are coping in the patriarch's absence. 
He does not throw 100-mph like Morillo, but last year's first round draft pick Shooter Hunt is having the same type of control problems but at Low-A Beloit.  Hunt added six more walks and two wild pitches to his numbers in his most recent start bringing his total to 29 walks in 14 2/3 innings of work.  Left-handed batters seem to be giving the right-handed Hunt the most problems as he has walked 11 of them and struck out just three.
Former Twin and current Tampa Bay Ray Matt Garza took a crack at the decision to construct an outdoor stadium in Minnesota.  After going 1-10 with a 5.91 ERA in 13 career starts at the Dome, Garza wished the facility a fond farewell but questioned the choice of not having a roof.  "Not one of the smartest moves I've seen in baseball." Garza told the St Petersburg Times, "Just weather-wise, it will be great in June, July and August, but into September, April, May it's going to be horrible. And if they get into the postseason, it's even worse. Usually you build a park to benefit your team, the home team. But that's just going to hurt, because they're going to have to pitch more in the cold than anyone else."
Speaking of the Rays, apparently with the new Target Field opening up in a few months, the Twins are unwilling to invest any more money into the Metrodome.  In spite of renaming their team the "Rays" more than a year ago and taking every opportunity to reiterate the image makeover, the Twins still have a sign place above the visitor's clubhouse that reads "Tampa Bay Devil Rays" on the name plate.  On the last game, the visiting team placed white tape over "Devil" to drive the point home.