Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Infield Hits: Death by papercuts?

I have spent plenty of time in this space dedicated to the deterioration of the Twins’ infield defense. The once flourishing empire has crumbled into a shell of its former self.

We know that the 2011 infield defense has been both porous and error-prone – a lethal combination for the home team – but it is equally terrible at converting balls that remain in the infield to outs just the same. Heading into last night’s game, the Twins infield had allowed 198 infield hits, by far the most in the AL. That’s also 25 more than they allowed last season. They have allowed 17 more hits than the next closest team, the Chicago White Sox, and a whopping 56 more infield hits than the Boston Red Sox who have allowed the fewest hits within the infield area.

On Monday it was the Twins inability to turn grounders that stay within the infield dirt into outs proved to be their ultimate demise as they allowed another FIVE infield hits.

Kevin Slowey cruised through the first five innings while scattering several hits. Unfortunately, some of those scattered we ones that could have been turned into outs. With one out in the first, Melky Cabrera hit a slow chopper towards shortstop Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe was unable to make the play on the ball and get the speedy Cabera at first. Then, by means of small ball, the Royals were able to move Cabrera to third and score him on an Eric Hosmer sacrifice fly.

Admittedly, the play was somewhat difficult – especially considering from where Plouffe was starting from – but it is not a play that we haven’t seen more athletic shortstops make in the past. But, to be fair, the Royals are one of baseball’s speedier team – racking up 154 infield hits of their own, the second-most in MLB – so it’s difficult to put tonight’s five infield hits entirely on the Twins defense.

That stood as the Royals only run until the sixth inning. Once again it was Cabrera who singled on an infield grounder to Plouffe and once again, the Royals moved Cabrera around to score. Now, Slowey – who was on the brink of collapsing as he is wont to do this season – was not helping his cause at this point either. In fact, he threw 97 pitches and got just 4 swinging strikes (all on fastballs). At the juncture, he was giving up loud outs and hard-hit balls all over the yard.

Kevin Slowey (2011)
1st PA in G, as SP
2nd PA in G, as SP
3rd PA in G, as SP

(via Baseball-Reference.com)

It is impossible to predict the outcome if the Twins had been able to get some of those outs.  Still, you have to wonder, if Plouffe had been able to make either play on Cabrera, the Royals would likely have not scored – certainly not in the first. Plus, making those plays would have shaved off possibly 10 or so pitches off of Slowey’s pitch count. Is it possible that that would have gotten him through the sixth?

Beyond just last night, think about that on a larger scale – How many additional pitches on the pitching staffs arms? How many runs do 25 additional base runners equate to? Could that be at least a five-win difference on the basis of the infield defense alone?

When the season ends in a few days, one of the biggest offseason priorities should be to find a way to stop the hemorrhaging in the infield.  


Anonymous said...

Interesting... I've been thinking about this a lot, especially in relation to Liriano and Pavano's groundball tendencies. In one of the earlier games against the Royals and another against the Tigers... it seemed all that Liriano did was get ground ball after ground ball that couldn't be converted to outs or were just finding holes. When Liriano has gotten into jams in the past, it seems it's often a result of poorly hit groundballs (not hit hard enough) that sometimes give him the most trouble. Those are difficult to convert to outs at times as well as get the Double Play turned on, so in effect, his inflated BABIP from last year may have much to do with weak grounders finding spots... Just something I've been mulling over myself.


Twins Fan c.1981 said...

MC --

Based on my perception of watching his starts, I would have made that assumption too - that he was getting bilked by grounders that find seams. Surprisingly, checking the numbers, his GB BIP is not that out of line from the league average (24.2% vs 23.8% AL avg) and it is down some from 2010 too.

Where Liriano is getting hurt is in the line drive department. Last year 68.5% of liners became hits. This season 78.6% of liners have become hits. Adding to that is his increased amount of walks allowed.

Anonymous said...

His walks were the big issue. But his LD % was down, so I saw that as his stuff was still for the most part, good at inducing less solid contact.

I think the Twins would be wise to let him pitch in the DWL and see if they got something before they decide whether to move him.