Sunday, February 19, 2012

A new home

I started this one-room crap-shack of a blog all the way back in 2006 out of boredom and in need of a baseball outlet. The original intend was not to entertain or attract a significant audience or even advance a writing career. I simply wanted to keep myself busy with my favorite passion.

You see, we had just had my daughter Avery and had taken a new position in my company that would send me on the road quite often. Without much to do in far-flung Marriott Courtyard in some largely suburban community, I saturated myself with as much baseball knowledge as I possibly could on statistics and how they can be applied to the game I loved so much.

But enough about what I do in hotel rooms alone.

Frankly, I enjoyed doing the research – asking myself questions and seeing if I can use data to determine answers or provide insight towards the game. Somewhere along the way, other people began to enjoy my research or writing or whatever because people starting crowding in to read my posts on a regular basis.

I was fortunate enough to meet some outstanding Twins bloggers in John Bonnes, Nick Nelson and Seth Stohs (among others) only to discover that we all had the same passion and/or self-destructive behavior for providing free Twins content on the Internet. We formed TwinsCentric to pool our collective talents together to provide content to the Star Tribune (also for free).

But, man, what a hassle for you, the reader, right? I mean, each morning, stops at my site, Seth’s site, Nick’s site, that weird site with photos of farm animals dressed like people, the Star Tribune’s TwinsCentric site and then, if you had time, John’s site. With all that surfing you figure we must be costing your companies a ton in lost wages as you spend from 8 AM to 1:28 PM -each day going from Twins blog -to-Twins blog.

So, while the Occupy Wall Streeters continue to tear down big corporations, we at TwinsCentric plan to assist the poor, defenseless coporations – at the very least, by attempting to get their lost wages back. Starting today, the TwinsCentric team is launching a new endeavor,, your source for not only informative and entertaining posts from your four favorite Twins bloggers but also a place to discuss and debate with other Twins fans.

With forces joined, we figured we could at least save the good people of Cyberspaceville the annoyance of making multiple stops along the information superhighway. Now you can lap up all the Twins news, content and chatter you want in one spot -- just like an Old Country Buffett with an open bar.

So, oddly enough, I am going to miss this shack. It’s the one I took care of for six long years and honestly, not very well. After all, I never actually gave it a real URL. Still, I will not be more than a click away as I will be posting at my new location within the Twins Daily site (found here). Additionally, all my archived posts will remain up here at the old site just in case you want to scroll through the posts and tell me how wrong I was back in 2010 when I called Glen Perkins washed up (plenty of crow eaten on that one).

Thanks again for stopping by this old girl. See you at the new home.

Twins Daily:

Twins Daily on Twitter:!/TwinsDaily

Friday, February 17, 2012

Will Francisco Liriano rebound in 2012?

Without a doubt, there will be plenty of storylines to monitor during spring training this year. One of the bigger ones that you should keep an eye on in Fort Myers is Francisco Liriano’s fastball.
Injuries took him out of the 2011 season but it was clear that the southpaw was not the same pitcher as he was the season before. Between a decrease in velocity, an inability to locate his fastball and regularly falling behind his opponents, Liriano posted a career high in walks (75) and his second-worst ERA of his career (5.09). Perhaps a bit predictably based upon his delivery and past history, he succumbed to injuries midway through last season and missed a significant amount of time. Suddenly, not signing Liriano to a long-term deal became one of Bill Smith’s finest moves as a GM.
For his part, Liriano, who was admonished for not following through with offseason workouts before last season, opted to participate in winter ball – the same platform that helped him regain his form two seasons ago. Unfortunately, the results were not quite as enticing this year as they were in the past. He threw 24.2 innings and posted a 25/16 K/BB ratio in winter ball. This outcome was a distant cry from his 2009 winter league performance in which he reintroduced himself to baseball as one of the more filthy pitchers in baseball. That year in 20 innings  Liriano posted a 30/5 K/BB ratio on his way to becoming one of the Twins more dominating starters in the 2010 regular season.
Admittedly, each pitch thrown between November and April means very little in the grand scheme yet the signs are not wholly positive at this juncture. What can Liriano do to become the pitcher the Twins so desperately need in 2012?
There’s no question that he still has the nasty slider that can catapult him towards being a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, however, as I detailed following Liriano’s first outing this offseason in the Dominican, the main question is whether he can command his fastball.
According to’s pitch f/x data, Liriano’s fastball was vastly different from the 2010 predecessor:

Liriano’s Fastballs (2010 vs 2011)

Called Strike
2010 Four-Seamer
2010 Two-Seamer
2011 Four-Seamer
2011 Two-Seamer
In addition to the decrease in velocity, notice the sharp decline in the amount of called strikes with his two-seamed fastball. This is the pitch he uses most often against right-handed opponents. This may explain why his walk rate when facing righties jumped from 8.5% in 2010 to 12.8% in 2011. Having scouted a couple of Liriano’s outings in the Dominican, you can see that he was still struggling to place the pitch in the Caribbean – specifically his two-seamed fastball against right-handers.
Outside of Scott Baker, the Twins have little in their rotation of being an elite pitcher. In order to reach that echelon which the team so desperately needs, Liriano, besides being healthy, needs to see an improved fastball in 2012. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Twins hitting coach looking to fix team's approach at the plate

Hitting coach Joe Vavra recently shared some ideas behind what was causing the drought at the plate with the Pioneer Press’s Tom Powers. Plenty of factors played into the team’s offensive ineptitude but for those who did make it to the plate, Vavra felt that the approach was fundamentally lacking:

“Some couldn't grasp that they couldn't pull every pitch or that sometimes it was better to take a few. As a result, they struggled.
Despite some fans objections to the contrary, Joe Vavra comes off as a smart, intelligent and process-oriented hitting coach. I have personally never had the opportunity to meet with him however in interviews and articles about him, he comes off as someone who has a keen understanding of the art and science of hitting. After all, as stated in this column and in previous interviews, he has a history of checking data to assist in his techniques and teachings – and advanced viewpoint coming from a position that has historically been of the “see ball, hit ball, spit chew, little bingo, how now brown cow” ilk.

In that particular piece, Vavra does not outright say what constitutes “struggling” or rather which metric he uses to gauge that, however, he cited batting average a number of times. Because pull-hitting often takes a toll on a player’s average, you can see why the Twins would want to discourage this practice. Using more of the field is an indication that a hitter is able to handle more pitches in more zones. For example, if a right-handed hitter gets too pull-happy and attempts to turn on a pitch on the outer-half, odds are they will be pulling something towards the shortstop rather than “going with the pitch” to right field. In theory, opposing teams will recognize this and attack the outer-half more which will incite a player to turn-over on the pitch more often and drag down his batting average.

This more or less seems to be what Vavra is saying happened to the 2011 squad, particularly the young right-handed hitters.

Given that the Twins cycled through a greater number of younger hitters through the lineup that hit from the right side (Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, Drew Butera, Joe Benson, etc) Vavra’s theory makes sense. Not surprising, the data indicates that the right-handers turned on 29.9% of their balls in play – a sizeable jump from the 24.3% pull rate in 2010. As such, righties hit .237 as a group, their lowest in the past three seasons:

Now, the batted ball data shows the outcome but it clearly does not show intent. That is something that hitting coaches can detect and video can reveal a bit more on what a hitter was trying to do when being pitched away. While a near 30% pull rate is high, there may be more outer-half pitches that hitters attempted to pull but directed them towards center instead of right field. What data might show some of that is the precipitous drop in using the opposite field successfully over the past three years. The idea is that if a hitter is focused on going oppo, the result should be better:

As you can glean, the 2011 Twins were considerably less successful at going the opposite direction than their predecessors. If the 2011 lineup was indeed less focused on driving shots to right field, it is reflective in those splits.

So, redirecting those players who may have grown too pull-happy like Trevor Plouffe or Danny Valencia back towards the big part of the field may help bolster their batting average but what of the power?

As I’ve written about extensively here, Target Field plays more favorably for pull hitters. This offseason, Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit were added to the lineup and both hitters showed clear pull tendencies over their careers. In Willingham’s case, he moved to Oakland and grew increasingly pull-happy to combat the spacious park. Although he set a career high in home runs (29) that came at the expense of over 20 batting average points and a significant amount of on-base numbers. If the team wants the home runs added to the repertoire, they should encourage Willingham to keep the same approach he had as an Athletic.

Not long ago, the Twins tinkered with Hardy’s approach at the plate, suggesting he was getting too pull-happy. Hardy had incorporated the opposite-field mentality to his approach which the Orioles hitting coach told him to forget. Not only did Hardy’s batting average remain at a high level after going back to being a pull hitter, he also jacked 30 home runs.

Will Vavra allow Willingham and Doumit to retain their approaches? Of course it is up to the individual but it sounds as if Vavra had his way, it sounds like he would discourage the pair from this method. According to Tom Powers’ column, the Pioneer Press scribe posited the question if power hitters should try “to yank the ball” to which Vavra replied “I’d challenge them on that”. The reasoning behind Vavra’s contention was never clarified but I would speculate that it has to do with what amounts to a batting average drain.

Clearly, talent certainly played a key factor in the degeneration of the batting average from the right-side for the Twins but the inexperience and the pull-heavy tendencies also contributed. The old adage “hit it where it’s pitched” applies. Still, pulling the ball is not as big of an enemy to the offense as some would think. 

Monday, February 06, 2012


Over the Baggy posts will be on a brief hiatus for the next week and change as I indulge in cool cervazas by the beach in Mexico. 

Friday, February 03, 2012

Danny Valencia: 99 problems but a hitch ain't one?

According to Joe Christensen, Danny Valencia has been working hard all offseason at improving his overall game. In addition to trying to repair his shoddy defense, he has used video to help him make a few changes to his offensive approach:
“Valencia, 27, also studied video of his at-bats and decided to make a subtle change with his hands. Last year, he would trap his hands toward his body, forcing a longer loop before his swing. Now, he is bringing his hands straight back, giving him a straighter path to the ball.
Here’s a look at what Valencia has seen:

Focus on his hands. Notice that during his loading process, he drops his hands while bring the bat inside then brings his hands back up to his launch position. This action is what causes the “longer loop” as Christensen describes it.

Compare Valencia’s loading process to that of fellow right-hander and former teammate Michael Cuddyer:

Rather than moving his hands towards his body, Cuddyer simply shifts his set back to the launch position, maintaining the same linear plane and creating the “straighter path to the ball.”
From the side view, this will better highlight Valencia’s subtle hitch in comparison to how level someone like Cuddyer keeps his hands:

What is interesting about this is that throughout his career, Valencia has had this hitch in his swing – at least it was a trait he featured dating back to at least 2008 in the Arizona Fall League. It is clear that he has a hitch but this approach worked well for him during his time in AA (.287/.353/.483 in 539 plate appearances), AAA (.289/.322/.421 in 484 plate appearances) and at the major league level last year (.311/.351/.448 in 322 plate appearances). Of course, when you come off a season like Valencia did in 2011, obviously the performance demands some answers.

Did his hitch derail his season? Were big league pitchers better at exploiting this than their minor league counterparts?

Delving into his batted ball numbers, you see almost mirror images of his batted ball output. The difference lies in the quality of ball put into play (a much higher well-hit average in 2010) which likely led to the large batting average on balls in play discrepancy:

Well-Hit Avg
(via &

Plate discipline-wise, the story remained the same as well. There was a minor growth in a tendency to expand the strike zone and his contact/strikeout rate both made movement in the wrong direction but none of those indicators are suggestive of someone struggling through a season:

Out of Zone%
Swinging Strike%
(via &

So, there was not a spike in ground balls or a great inflation in fly balls that would lead someone to believe opponents were more successful at keeping him off-balanced in 2011. Same goes for his plate discipline numbers. What’s more is that with the exception of a slight shift in more hard-velocity pitches thrown to him (fastballs, sliders) over off-speed stuff (change-ups, curves), Valencia saw almost the same palate of pitches.

Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore how quickly his hit rate dropped between the two years and how his ability to handle right-handed pitching disappeared as he went from hitting .280/.303/.410 against them in 2010 to .252/.303/.352 in 2011. Was it because of his longer swing? Probably not. Will adjusting it help? It’s very possible.

Without anyone in the system pressing him at third, the Twins went out an acquired a small insurance policy in Sean Burroughs. Burroughs, who had a solid defensive reputation and a decent minor league track record, may be the safety net for Valencia in 2012 – or a left-handed platoon option if Valencia cannot solve right-handers.

Based on his prior successful output with the hitch (or longer loop in his swing) combined with the batted ball and plate discipline data, it is difficult to pinpoint his 2011 woes on that part of his swing so changing that aspect is not a magic bullet for him to rebound in 2012. Still, if he’s able to adapt to the new approach, this should give him a quicker swing (perhaps covering the inside portion of the plate where he’s had some struggles). And, if he maintains a similar line drive rate in 2012, it would not be unexpected to see his BABIP increase and with it, his overall numbers too.