Monday, June 23, 2008

Notebook Dump (6.23.08)

Game: Twins 5, D-Backs 3

Box Score

Record: 40-36, 2nd place, 1.5 games out

Streak: 6 wins

Minnesota Twins' Alexi Casilla scores after a hit by Justin Morneau against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, June 22, 2008 in Minneapolis.

The Quote: "Most of the balls that are hit, you are going to lose it for the most part but they'll come back to you. I was just sitting there hoping that it would come back into view and it never did." - Conor Jackson, Diamondbacks leftfielder

The Inning: Delmon Young had been manned left field like a stranger in a strange land. In the third inning of Sunday's game, Young pussy-footed his way in on Conor Jackson's fly ball after a few steps backwards that eventually fell in for a single. Fortunately, Livan Hernandez was able to strand Jackson aiding his own plummeting left-on-base rate (67.0%). In the top of the fourth, with two out and Mark Reynolds on 1st and Conor Jackson on 2nd, Diamondbacks catcher Chris Snyder pulled a Hernandez 77-mph curveball through the hole on the right-side. With two outs, Reynolds had his sights set on the plate and was rounding third. Young, a strong outfield arm that had thrown out 11 base-runners last year, charged hard on the bouncing ball, highly capable of throwing out the Diamondbacks third baseman. Only Young didn't come up with the ball. The ball scooted under Young's glove when he tried to position himself for a throw home and the ball bounded towards the padded left-field wall with center fielder Carlos Gomez giving chase. Reynolds and Jackson scored easily has Snyder pulled into third. One wild curveball later from Hernandez and Snyder trotted home for a 3-0 Diamondbacks lead.

At the conclusion of Sunday's game, Delmon Young fielding statistics in left field took significant hits. In terms of range factor, Young's 2.15 was better than the league average left fielder at 2.09. His revised zone rating of .865, fourth among American League left fielders, put him closer to Carl Crawford (.877) than Raul Ibanez (.843). In spite of his "clunky feet" when he runs, Young covers decent ground in comparison to the rest of the league's left fielders. Coverage hasn't been his problem. His problem is that his approach has been off. According the Fielding Bible statistics, Young is currently ranking 28th among Major League left fielders when you consider expected outs and total outs make for a -8 rating. Even the slow-footed, noodle-armed Shannon Stewart managed to produce a +3 rating in Toronto. It is visually evident with his choppy steps towards plays. Admittedly, Young is fast. He is tied with Michael Cuddyer for team lead in triples (4) in addition to nine stolen bases so his approach to fly balls is worrisome, borderline clueless at times. Following the Snyder mishap, the boos were audible within the Dome. And with just cause. The hype and potential surrounding Delmon Young was substantial but Twins fans have yet to see any of that. His right handed bat was expected to replace Torii Hunter's displaced bat and give the Twins a defensive upgrade over Jason Kubel. The results have been wildly different. True, Young's .275 batting average has been better than the league average .264 (11 points better), but his on-base percentage (.323) and slugging (.363) are well below the average left fielder (.337 and .421).

Thankfully, the Diamondbacks matched Young's defensive ineptitude in left field. Without Eric Byrnes the Diamondbacks had been short one outfielder. Manager Bob Melvin penciled in Conor Jackson, the 26-year-old who had spent 65.7 of his 2628 innings in the outfield. All the Twins had to do was expose the inexperience. "Not being a true outfielder and then playing in this dome -- it's going to be even tougher," Delmon Young said regarding Jackson. In the fifth inning, Jason Kubel hit an 86-mph Brandon Webb sinking fastball to left that Jackson later claimed he never saw. With Kubel at first, Delmon Young, who had grounded out to Stephen Drew in the second inning, strode to the plate. In the past ten games and 41 plate appearances, Young had been hitting .308/.341/.385. Young fouled off Webb's first pitch, an 87-mph fastball. His next offering, a 86-mph change, Young lofted to left field for what appeared to be a certain can-of-corn out. The local broadcast would show Conor Jackson blankly staring towards the Teflon sky. "I saw it off the bat and that's about it," Jackson said. "I'm sure I'm not the first person to do it here, sure I won't be the last. I didn't want to throw my hands up because if I throw my hands up, he's probably going to score." The blank look instead of throwing up the hands in efforts to show the rest of the field that he had no clue where the ball was probably saved a run for the moment. Kubel hovered near second until the moment appeared that Jackson was not going to catch the ball. Young checked into second.

Brian Buscher followed. Since his early June call up, Buscher had been hitting .364/.333/.409 in 24 plate appearances with nine rbis. In the third inning Buscher had pulled a grounder through the right side for his first base hit of the game. Webb had gone up 0-2 on Buscher after starting him with two curveballs but failed to close on two subsequent sinking fastballs. In his second plate appearance, Webb started him with a fastball for a ball then Webb went to his change-up, a pitch that Webb confessed was his out-pitch. Buscher sent a 1-1 change-up back up the middle to score both Kubel and Young. Branden Harris then followed with a groundball single to left field (one that Jackson evidently tracked) moving Buscher to second. Next came Carlos Gomez, the man who had been 17-34 in bunts prior to Sundays game - a .515 average, one of the best in the league. With Buscher and Harris on the bases, a sacrifice was transparent. Gomez laid down a good one that Reynolds, the man who had rolled his ankle less than 24 hours before in an apparent sprain, made a close play on Gomez at first.

This brought up Alexi Casilla. In 61 plate appearances in May, Casilla had hit .340/.410/.520, a line that competed with most sluggers, not slap hitters. In June, Casilla's line dropped considerably. In 85 June plate appearances, Casilla was hitting .267/.282/.347. Part of the reason was his pitch selection. In May, Casilla walked 13.1% of the time. In June he walked in just 3.5% of his plate appearances. This suggests that Casilla has been swinging at weaker pitches. His batting average on balls in play went from .366 in May to .292 in June. His last ten games Casilla's average had been .216/.279/.243 in 46 plate appearances. Still in the first inning Casilla had worked the NL Cy Young runner-up for six pitches before lining a single to Conor Jackson in left. Webb began Casilla off with the same sinking fastball that he lined to opposite field only this time Casilla grounded this back up the middle to score Buscher and Harris. Harris would ultimately being the winning run. "The Dome gods helped us out a little bit," Gardenhire told the Star Tribune.