Sunday, March 30, 2008

Twins Notes (Opening Day Eve)

  • Joe C reports that Scott Baker tossed 6 innings of one run ball with 3 strikeouts in the minor league camp. Naturally this is huge considering Baker is expected to be one of the frontline starters and will expect to improve on his 2007 season numbers. The Bill James Gold Mine 2007 took a retrospective look at the Twins. One fact that James highlighted was that Baker rarely threw his slider in 2006 (3%) but in 2007 used it as his secondary pitch (25%) next to his fastball and consequently his ERA decreased by nearly two full runs. A closer examination of his pitches via pitch f/x reveals that his slider had the best WHIFF average of all of his four pitches - a .259 rating (making bats miss 25% of the time). One thing Baker should work on is getting his slider to dart out of the zone. Last season, his slider was thrown in the strike zone 73% of the time (2% better than his fastball). Former Twin Kyle Lohse threw his slider 22% of the time and was in the zone only 66% of the time but accumulated a .333 WHIFF average on his. If Baker is able to start his on the outer half of the plate and have it slide away from the right-handed batter I would assume that his WHIFF average would increase exponentially due to more empty swings.

  • Last season the Twins had the most disappointing production from their 9th spot hitters according to the Gold Mine. Nick Punto (73 games), Jason Bartlett (45 games) and Alexi Casilla (20 games) combined to have the lowest OPS in the American League (.582) AND lower than the St Louis Cardinals in the National League that typically employed a pitcher in that spot. This season all indications are that Adam Everett with be the player asked to shore up the tail end of the line up. His 2007 injury-shortened campaign did not offer much improvement as Everett posted a .599 OPS. Those previous three hit .230/.293/.289 combined. Everett did worse when it came to acquiring a base, he hit .232/.281/.318, but was deficient in the on-base category. Everett, however, has a slightly better career average and is capable of saving many more runs with his glove than he creates with his bat.

  • Jim Souhan's preview of the Twins 2008 line-up states that it is filled promise, especially with Cuddyer, Morneau and Young manning the heart of the order. Souhan has long been the target of being labeled as "shecky" with drawn out analogies comparing pitching rotations to Butterball Turkeys and the like. Recently, the Strib columnist has seemingly been attending SABR meetings, mixing in the occasionally reference to "on-base percentage" and his desire to move Mauer to the top of the order. This sort of writing I fully support, despite the fact that I think the notion of Mauer batting first is too "on-base percentage" centric. Mauer does not have the base-running prowess to obtain the run production success that is required of the lead-off spot. Souhan has been drawing the conclusion that people on base equals more opportunities to score runs and those with higher on-base percentages should be positioned at the top of the order where they are likelier to receive more at-bats and therefore produce more runs. This is the sort of systematic logic I prefer when presenting an argument for augmenting a line-up.

  • On the other hand, Souhan still attempts to pass off baseless statements without so much as doing a simple check with Baseball-Reference. In the same article mentioned above, Souhan wrote "Morneau is the Twins' best clean-up hitter since Harmon Killebrew". While in the literary sense, comparing Morneau to Harmon Killebrew is acceptable - both known for their long home runs - and your tune-in, tune-out fans would appreciate the likening that allows for easy mental imagery of two fine sluggers, however it should be noted that a more appropriate comparison would have been "since Corey Koskie" or "since Kent Hrbek". Morneau, in his 943 plate appearances batting clean-up, has accumulated an OPS of .799 while Killebrew in his 4,880 plate appearance at clean-up in his career posted a .890 OPS, a seemingly insurmountable difference. Meanwhile, Hrbek in his 4,388 plate appearances at clean-up had an OPS of .864 a closer comparable but yet a wide margin of difference. Lastly, Corey Koskie had just several more 4th spot plate appearances (1,176) than Morneau at this juncture in his career but had amassed an OPS of .820. The hope since locking Morneau up to a long term contract, he would some day usurp both Hrbek and Koskie as the most productive clean-up hitter in the Twins history. Killebrew is a long shot.

  • In another Twins preview Souhan began by saying that the 2002 Twins won the division in spite of Doug Mientkiewicz batting third, which is the partial truth. Again, Souie, a simple fact-check with Baseball-Reference would suffice. Koskie batted in the third hole in 66 games, Mientkiewicz did so in only 64 - a small discrepancy but a discrepancy nonetheless. The lefty tandem was also some what successful. Mientkiewicz, who posted a .757 OPS total that season, at a .722 OPS in 286 plate appearances in the third spot. Koskie, meanwhile, had a slightly better season batting third. His season OPS was .815 but he was only a .746 OPS hitter in 275 plate appearances batting third still more productive than Mientkiewicz.

  • Unfortunately we will not be graced with a knuckleballer's presence at the Dome unless he is on the visiting team. La Velle reports that the Mariners have sent minor league catcher Jair Fernandez in return for the rights to R.A. Dickey, who had a solid spring in the Mariners camp. The 20-year-old Fernandez played in the Midwest League (A) last season for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. In 169 plate appearances he hit .260/.337/.377 with 2 home runs and an isolated power average of .117.