Friday, April 30, 2010

Denard Span has been grounded

Minnesotans have quickly grown fond of Target Field. You can include Florida-transplant Denard Span in that category as well.
While at the new stadium, the Twins center fielder has amassed a .367/.537/.467 batting line in just 41 plate appearances while hitting a home-sickly .154/.237/.212 in 61 plate appearances away from Target Field. After Span opened the year with a 4-for-28 (.142) start in Anaheim and Chicago, his road split was even further exacerbated on the most recent tour of the country as the leadoff man has once again gone 4-for-28 (.142) since the Cleveland series at home concluded.
Without question, Span’s absence from the offense is detrimental and has been a reason why the Twins have split the six games between the Royals and Tigers. In the nine games at Target Field, Span averaged a run per game but due to his truancy from the base paths, he has scored just one run in the past six. Not surprising, the Twins gone from scoring 5.4 runs per game in the homestand to scoring 4.6 runs in Kansas City and Detroit (still above average but a drop-off nonetheless).
Even though the home/away splits might suggest Span isn’t happy with spending his nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Overland Park, his lowly road numbers appear to be the consequence of a suppressed BABIP in general. After putting together consecutive seasons of producing significantly higher BABIPs than the average, he is experiencing the inverse this year – his .264 BABIP is far below the .287 league norm. This digression from his career norm is a product of an increase in ground balls and their subsequent conversion into outs:

Span and the Gounder




Span’s GB%




Span’s BABIP on GB








*Data from and
In his first two seasons at the major league level, he had hit around 53% of the total balls in play on the ground. And up until this year, it has work for the speedy Span. In addition to finding more seams in the defense, he also legged out 23 infield hits (10th most in baseball) to supplement his numbers. This year, his ground ball rate is the third-highest in baseball (behind only Derek Jeter and Michael Bourn). At the same time, the inflation in his ground ball output has come at the expense of his line drive rate, which has plummeted to a career-low 13%. So not only has Span experienced the bitter pains of batted ball hard luck, he’s also not producing the trajectory type that typically winds up as hits 70% of the time. It is quite the double-whammy.
To be sure, there has been nothing wrong with his fundamental approach in 2010. Span has added great value through his patience at the plate, as his keen zone acumen has resulted in a copious amount of walks (16). This has led to a .360 on-base percentage heading into Thursday’s game. In all, his 2010 plate discipline numbers are on par with the rest of his career meaning he isn’t suddenly chasing after bad pitches or missing more than usual. Likewise, his well-hit average of .207 is in line with the league average (.208) so he is putting the ball in play solidly.
With a very good comprehension of the strike zone, quick wrists and strong ability to make contact, Span’s overall numbers are tied to the current fortunes of the bouncing ball.  As the batted ball numbers begin to correct themselves over the course of a larger sample, he should regain his status as one of the lineup’s main run contributors.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How ridiculous is Liriano's slider?

Last night, Fransico Liriano worked through the Tigers lineup like a buzzsaw, using his slider to retire 10 of the 28 opponents he faced - six of which were on strikeouts. There were buckling knees and stupidly silly swings as the slider appeared to race up to the edge of the plate and diving off the table. The only mistake was a slider left up that Johnny Damon laced for a double but aside from that one transgression, Liriano was nearly flawless in Motown - as he has been for the past 23 innings. 
Through four starts, Liriano possesses perhaps the game's best slider. Judging from the weighted run value at, his 6.55 wSL/C is the tops among starters. Likewise for his Opponent OPS on the pitch found at


Pitch Value (wSL/C)

OPS against SL







*Data from and
In general, his results on the slider have been much better than that of the previous season:

Liriano’s Slider












 *Data from
While there are several reasons for his overall turnabout, including an improved command of his fastball and working ahead of hitters, his rekindled slider has been his strongest offering thus far. Opponents are offering at more pitches out-of-zone and missing at a higher rate which has led to more strikeouts. His chase rate on the pitch is the highest in baseball (minimum of 100 pitches thrown) as is his miss percentage. To summarize, this is a bar whore of a slider: just all kinds of dirty.

Liriano’s Slider

Total Thrown

Vel (MPH) Diff.

Vert. (Inches)









*Data from, and
What makes this version so much different than a year ago? In 2009 Liriano was throwing his slider at a higher velocity. This translated to just a 5.5-mph difference with his fastball. With his increased fastball velocity in 2010, he's also toned down the MPH on his slider, decreasing the velocity on that pitch by 2-mph. This has led to a near 10-mph (9.1) separation in his fastball and slider.
What's more, Liriano has added more drop to his slider. As you can see in the column above (Vert.) and visually in the graphs below, the Twins lefty is getting more decline out of his breaking pitch:
*Data from - 2009
*Data from - 2010

With everything clicking on all cylinders, it is likely that Liriano and his dirty slider will increase his scoreless inning streak in Cleveland against one of the most offensively-challenged lineups in baseball (scoring just 3.55 runs per game). 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

OtB's Around the Central (04.27.10)

Chicago White Sox | 8-11 T-3rd | 5 games back
  • First baseman Paul Konerko hit his league-leading 8th home run of the season on Monday and his third in as many games as the Sox won their third straight against Seattle. 
    • ANALYSIS: No matter how hard they try to build a team to reflect "Ozzie Ball", they still seem to gravitate towards the long ball. As it stands, their 26 team home runs is currently second behind the Blue Jays (28) but the majority of bombs have been of the solo variety. Still, while Twins fans worry over clutch and timely hitting, the White Sox are mired with a .143 average with runners in scoring position in the past 10 games to go along with their baseball worst .222 overall batting average. 
  • Ozzie Guillen believes that Sergio Santos, former Twins farmhand turned reliever in the White Sox organization, has the chance of being the team's closer someday
    • ANALYSIS: The "salvage" project has yet to allow a run in 8 innings of work. Thus far, he's been one of the dirtiest relievers in the game - his 57.5% contact rate is the fourth-lowest among relievers in all of baseball. Santos is hitting 95.5-mph on average and supplements that with a slider/changeup combination that has worked very well for the 26-year-old. Armed with those three plus pitches, Santos could easily usurp the incumbent closer Bobby Jenks who is eligible for his final year of arbitration in 2011. Although there are discussions regarding Santos transitioning to a starter's role, the righty has little designs on moving from the back-end of the bullpen where he prefers to remain
  • With a .355 OPS, catcher AJ Pierzynski remains one of baseball's least productive players in the early going of the 2010 season. In his past 25 at-bats, Pierzynski has coax just a solitary hit off of Tampa's David Price a week ago Tuesday. 
    • ANALYSIS: The 33-year-old catcher seems to be the recipiant of some horrendous luck. While putting the ball into play regularly on line drives similar to his career rate (21.2% LD%), Pierzynski hasn't had many fall in for hits as his .154 BABIP is the fourth-lowest in baseball. These two numbers would be indicative of a impending turnaround. Never one to walk or strikeout much, Pierzynski has been seeing an extremely high percentage of fastballs (71% FB) but has failed to hit them solidly (.140 well-hit average versus a .204 league-average).  

Cleveland Indians | 8-11 T-3rd | 5 games back
  • On Monday night, the Indians were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 14 men on base in the 5-2 loss to Anaheim. 
    • ANALYSIS: While no one really anticipated much from this lineup, with Grady Sizemore returning after an injury-riddled 2009 season, there was optimism that the young team would be able to improve. Currently, the Indians exercise baseball's worst average in baseball (.223), the worst RISP average (.205) and, unlike the White Sox who have compensated with the long ball, Cleveland's 14 home runs is tied for third fewest in baseball. All of this has led to just 62 runs scored - tied with Baltimore for the fewest in the American League. 
  • After throwing in a simulated game in Oakland, injured closer Kerry Wood is gearing up for his rehab assignment"I don't know how long it will take," said Wood. "At this point I'm not putting any number of days on it. I'm just going to go and come back when it feels ready to go."
    • ANALYSIS: Wood's simulated game didn't go so well. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that he was unhappy with his performance and that it may signal a significant step back in his return to the majors. Interim closer Chris Perez has been 4-for-5 in his save opportunities in Wood's absence but is fairly raw in his abilities. Though he might be the closer of the future, his nasty 3/6 K/BB ratio is far from the closer echelon and he has fallen behind hitters far too frequently (40.6% first-pitch strike). The Indians need to get Wood back on the field in order for him to make a few appearances to inflate his trade value enough to unload his massive contractual obligations on some other unsuspecting team. 

Detroit Tigers | 11-9 2nd | 2.5 games back
  • After his first four starts, Justin Verlander is 1-1 with a 6.95 ERA and 19 strike outs in 22 innings pitched. 
    • ANALYSIS: Starting out slow is nothing new for Verlander. Last year through his first four starts the hard-throwing righty was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA. The year before that? In '08 he started 0-3 with a 7.03 ERA. In general, Bill James found that power pitchers struggle a bit more at the beginning month of the season so Verlander should turn it around quickly. At the same time, Verlander did log 240 innings (most in MLB) and threw over 120 pitch in 11 of his outings while averaging 112 pitches per game. It is quite possible that there will be signs of toll on his arm in '10. Verlander's fifth start doesn't get any easieras he faced the Twins: Thome, Morneau and Mauer are a combined 33-for-108 (.305) with 12 HRs.  
  • Like Verlander, sophomore starter Rick Porcello is also in the midst of a rough patch in the season's opening month. Through four starts, Porcello is 1-2 with a 7.91 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 19.1 innings of work.
    • ANALYSIS: Porcello's actually thrown very well. He's getting ahead of hitters (58.7% first-pitch strike) and getting more groundballs (56.3% GB) while avoiding solid contact (12.7% LD rate down from 17.1% in '09). So what's the youngster's problem? His .449 BABIP is weighing him down (the highest in the AL). Behind him, the defense is failing to convert balls in play into outs -- especially his grounders. Opponents have a .415 BABIP on earth-scorchers when the league average has been at a .207 BABIP. With his strong batted ball numbers, his BABIP should begin to equalize over the next four starts. 

Kansas City Royals | 8-11 T-3rd | 5 games back
  • Following Sunday's 4-3 win over the Twins, manager Trey Hillman was asked if the combination of Dusty Hughes, Josh Rupe and Joakim Soria was the right combination to ensure protect leads. Hillman replied no and said that lefty John Parrish, who allowed a game-tying home run to Justin Morneau on Saturday night, has one of the best lefty-on-lefty breaking balls among his internal options
    • ANALYSIS: The bullpen has been atrocious, that's for sure. Their 6.38 ERA is the worst in the American League by almost a run. While the personnel hasn't been elite for Hillman, part of the blame rests squarely on his shoulders. A quick check of the numbers reveals that Hillman's statement isn't quite true. Left-handed opponents are hitting just .125/.333/.125 with a .250 well-hit average off of his breaking stuff while Parrish's breaking stuff has been thwacked to the tune of .375/.500/.750 with a .375 well-hit average. 
  • The Royals claimed Jai Miller who was released from the Oakland Athletics organization.
    • ANALYSIS: The right-handed hitting Miller is an extremely strikeout-prone hitter (237 in 884 plate appearances since '08) that has some pop (35 HR the past two seasons). While he is a .236/.320/.386 career minor league hitter, he has hit .270/.347/.473 in AAA. He's an insurance policy in the event that Rick Ankiel is unable to recover quickly and will likely fill out Omaha's roster. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Time to shave the beard?

As the rest of the Twins lineup is busy producing runs like a taco stand serving tainted meat, Jason Kubel has been inauspiciously quiet. Since the home opener the left-handed slugger has had fewer hits than Chumbawamba, going just 3-for-29 (.103) with nine strikeouts.

On Wednesday, I showed that part of the reason for his slump is because pitchers have noted his insatiable appetite for meaty fastballs and have switched his diet to low-fat and tasteless sliders and curves. The results are fewer pitches in the strike zone and ultimately fewer pitches he can feast upon. Kubel has displayed restraint in most cases – drawing more walks and chases after out-of-zone pitches less – by largely ignoring the servings of non-fastballs and off-the-plate appetizers. 

Yet in order to stop his batting average from slinking towards a number typically reserved for describing a Brewers fan’s blood alcohol content, Kubel also needs to stop hitting them directly at people. There are signs that the defense's good fortunes might not last much longer. For one thing, is batting average on balls in play (or BABIP for shorthand) is absurdly low. As a rule of thumb, if this number is well-below or towers above the league average, there is a strong indication that a player is primed for improvement or regression. In Kubel’s case, the lefty is sporting a BABIP (.226) as ugly as his beard – and far below the league average (.291) in addition to his own career mark (.303). 

Meanwhile, considering the method in which he is putting the balls into play, we can easily deduce that he is hitting the ball square. In Kubel’s 56 plate appearances before Thursday’s game, he has hit 27% of his balls in play as line drives. This is an extremely positive total. In general, line drives fall in for hits far more often than grounders or fly balls. Last season, liners became hits 72% of the time while grounders did so 24% of the time and fly balls just 13.4% (with the exception of home runs which are not considered “in play”). The natural conclusion is that if his line drive totals are up, the batting average will eventually correct itself as line drives find vacant real estate. 

But not only is he hitting line drives regularly, he’s hitting everything solid. Behind Inside Edge’s pay wall is a fairly underutilized statistic that may assist in bridging the gap from the “assumed” (i.e. high line drive rate coupled with low BABIP equals bad luck) to the “actual” (i.e. genuinely screaming balls around the field off his bat). Like Baseball Info Solutions, who gathers all of the batted ball data that we find at, Inside Edge has added a little extra flavor by denoting if the ball – be it grounder, liner or fly ball - was well-hit. The Well-Hit Average (well-hit balls/at bats) provides us with another metric to gauge the type of contact, regardless if it was hit land, air or sea. While the rest of the league holds a .208 well-hit average, Kubel has exercised a very good .239 well-hit average. 

If he continues to spray shots around the ballyard at the same rate, there is no reason not to expect a full turnaround long before summer begins. 

However, if this decline continues on the road trip, the next step is to shave the beard. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Give the man a fastball

Jason Kubel has entered some early season doldrums. In the past four games, Kubel is just 1-for-16 with four strikeouts. His overall totals are even less affirming. In the first 14 games, Kubel has buoyed a sad-looking .205/.327/.364 batting line with two home runs in 52 plate appearances. While he’s showing more patience, walking 8 times (15.4% BB%), he’s also striking out more (25% K%) and has lost some overall pop (.159 isolated power down from .239 in ’09). Admittedly, Kubel’s line drive rate is very attractive (27.3% LD%) but this downturn is quite the contrast from a year ago in which the lefty marched through opponents’ pitching staffs on a mission.


Opposing teams made a shrewd observation based on his performance last year: Kubel was absolutely shredding fastballs. Ostensibly, pitchers respected Kubel’s ownership of the fastball and curbed their deployment of fastballs accordingly in ’09, throwing them just 53.3% of the time. Nevertheless, he turned pitcher’s high cheddar into minced meat, slugging .667 on fastballs resulting in a 27.2 run above average (11th-best in baseball). The harder you threw it, the harder he hit it.


The general strategy for defusing Kubel this year has been “If he’s going to feast on the heat, let’s feed him less of it.” Now, Kubel receives a fastball about as often as Halley’s Comet visits this rock. So far in 2010, Kubel has seen the lowest mix of fastballs in baseball:


Kubel and the Heat:






Slugging% on FB







Being the recipient of a high dosage of breaking pitches has in turned increased the number of balls out of the zone. Whereas in 2009, pitchers went into the zone 47.1% of the time, he’s getting just 43% of pitches faced in the strike zone (well below the 48.6% league average). This has naturally led to fewer balls that he can drive thus the decline in his isolated power.


Because of this, Kubel will have to make some adjustments to his approach. There are already signs that he is doing just that. Seeing that his walk rate is up and that he is chasing fewer pitches out of the zone (20% chase%) demonstrates that he is capable of being selective and waiting for his pitch (i.e. the occasional fastball). If he continues to put the ball in play on a line like he has been doing, there is no doubt that his average will rebound as some of those batted balls begin to fall in for hits.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Off-Day Happenings.

Monday's scheduled off-day will give Twins fans a night free of baseball to enjoy the unusually warm spring evening in Minnesota. However, if you are an agoraphobic, 1500ESPN's Phil Mackey has you covered. He's organized a live chat on-line to discuss the state-of-the-Twins for tonight at 8 PM. Joining Mackey will be Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Seth Stohs and myself, screeding away thoughts and opinions on the team's 9-4 start. That's right: Four iconic Twins writers and me, the Ringo Starr/Oates/Garfunkel of the blogging community. 

Other matters:

  • The Twins' new stadium is keeping MLB's attendance numbers from going kerplunk. The turnout thus far has been wonderful yet it appears that the interest in the mid-week games against Cleveland are not drawing nearly the same attention that the Boston series did.
  • Justin Morneau's 13 walks is tied for the most in the American League. Part of the reason is that pitcher's are refusing to throw Morneau strikes, hitting the zone just 41% of the time (below the 48% average) and Morneau, in turn, is not chasing those pitches as much as he had in the past (following just 25% of pitches out-of-zone). Speaking of walks, the Twins are currently tied with the Braves for the most in baseball (65). 
  • The Twins offense has had 36 of their plate appearances run to 3-0 counts. That's seven more than the next closest, the Detroit Tigers. 
  • Ron Gardenhire is certainly picking the right moments to use Jim Thome's bat off the bench as Thome's pinch hitter leverage is at 2.59 - the 7th-highest in baseball. Unfortunately the big man is just 1-for-5 in his opportunities.
  • Target Field is playing well for Orlando Hudson. After a slow start on the road since the inaugural game in the new outdoor stadium, Hudson is 7-for-22 (.318) with three extra base hits, six walks and six runs scored. 
  • According to, the Twins are second in the American League in net bases gained with +11, trailing the go-go Oakland A's who are +24 bases and leading all of baseball. 
  • John Dewan's Plus/Minus defensive system currently pegs Nick Punto (+4) tied with Jose Lopez, Miguel Tejada and Ian Stewart as the top third baseman in baseball. Despite what Dick N Bert like to relay during the telecasts, Denard Span ranks 30th among center fielders with a -1 rating, losing most of his marks in fielding deep fly balls. 
  • Baseball America's JJ Cooper reviews prospect Kyle Gibson's first two professional starts. After a five-run, six-hit debut that included a pair of home runs, Miricles pitching coach Steven Mintz said that Gibson's outing was a little misleading given the stiff wind that day. His second outing demostrated Gibson's talent better, as the 2009 first round draft pick implemented a solid changeup to keep hitters off-balance. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Control of fastball key to Liriano's success

That’s more like it.

For most of the winter and spring, we have been teased by this promise of Francisco Liriano 2.0. While in winter ball in the Dominican, he was blowing hitters away and commanding the strike zone with authority. He continued this output in the spring, working 20 almost flawless innings in the Grapefruit League yielding just five walks. Like the Twins’ version of Guns N Roses, it began to feel like Liriano’s anticipated 2010 season was the equivalent of the band’s much hyped album Chinese Democracy. We’ve been waiting patiently for this release and have been feed information that only led us to believe it was going to be EPIC.

And then Liriano made his 2010 debut against the White Sox and it started to feel exactly like Chinese Democracy: propagated and overhyped crap.

Similar to 2009, Liriano struggled to place his fastball within the strike zone despite having velocity closer to his 2006 levels. He especially avoided the right-handed contingent of the White Sox lineup with his heater. This was no small surprise as last year righties feasted upon Liriano’s smoke, hitting .365/.468/.698 (AVG/OBP/SLG) while the rest of America’s pitchers had their fastballs hit at a significantly lower .298/.371/.469 clip. Evidently, in his first start of the year, this was probably at the forefront of his mind as he navigated his way through his first major league lineup since 2009. As such, he kept his fastball off the plate and wound up walking five righties (four of the five on fastballs). Without any control over his fastball to set up his inhumane slider, Liriano appeared ready to dither away in yet another season mired in high walk rates.

Pundits and coaches spoke of Liriano’s need to trust his stuff and the Twins potential ace did just that at Target Field. In his second start of the season against a formidable Boston lineup, Liriano proved that he could intertwine both his recharged velocity and placement in the strike zone, validating the offseason reports we heard so much about. He consumed the strike zone with his fastball, throwing it for a strike 66% of the time to righties, much better than his 56% rate against the White Sox righties.

As the game progressed, so too did his confidence in his fastball. In fact, after favoring his off-speed offerings in Chicago, Liriano stuck with the hard stuff on Thursday to right-handed batters:

Liriano’s Pitch Selection vs RHB:
At White Sox (4/9/10)
Vs Red Sox (4/15/10)
(via Inside Edge)
With a core that included heavy-hitting right-handed bats in Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Beltre, Liriano would have had ample reason to shy away from his fastball. Instead, it was his fastball that would be the executioner of the trio in their second and third time through the order. In the third inning, Liriano coaxed fly outs off the bats of Martinez and Youkilis then retired Beltre on a grounder to open the fourth, preserving the Twins one-run lead. Several innings later and a four-run buffer at his disposal, Liriano struck out Martinez on the heat then proceeded to get Youkilis to bounce into a fielder’s choice and extracted a grounder out of Beltre - both on fastballs.

Using a rejuvenated fastball effectively against one of baseball’s offensive juggernauts, particularly to their right-handed swingers, Liriano demonstrated just how potent his pitching can be.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bullpen elevates Twins

The Twins bullpen – figured to be the most questionable area of the team coming into the season - has helped elevate the club to a 6-2 record. Through the first eight ballgames, the late inning clean-up crew has exercised a 1.66 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP, best in the American League. What has been the early season formula for success?

(1) No walks.

They have dominated opponents by dominating the strike zone. The relief staff has walked just one (Jose Mijares) in 21.2 innings of work, which keeps opponents from adding base-runners during pivotal portions of the game. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Washington Nationals relievers have issued 20 walks in 28.2 innings leading to a 5.02 group ERA. Because of the miniscule 0.42 BB/9 the Twins relievers hold an unearthly 14.00 K/BB ratio in spite of averaging just 5.8 K/9. To put that into context, the next closest team is the Atlanta Braves who hold a 4.29 K/BB ratio thanks to a 10.38 K/9.

(2) First-pitch strikes.

This goes hand-in-hand with the no walks. In 63.0% of plate appearances, the relievers have achieved strike one, well-above the 58% baseball average. Only Toronto’s 73.8% first pitch strike percentage is better in the American League. Getting strike one ensures that the Twins pitchers position themselves well. Everybody other than Brian Duensing (46.2%) and Alex Burnett (33.3%) hold percentages over 50%. Jose Mijares leads the staff with an 81.8% rate while Jon Rauch (68.4%), Matt Guerrier (64.7%) and Jesse Crain (63.6%) are not far behind.

(3) Getting hitters to chase their pitches.

The byproduct of throwing first-pitch strikes and working ahead is being able to move the ball of the plate. While pitchers typically throw a fastball 62% of the time, the Twins relief staff has had the luxury of using their breaking stuff, mostly sliders (30%), far more frequently because of their ability to get ahead. Since the Twins are throwing pitches in the zone at a high rate, they have also enticed plenty of swings are pitches that dart out of the strike zone. At 35.7% out-of-zone swings, the relief staff is coaxing hitters to go after their pitches. While opponents have put a fair amount of those out-of-zone pitches in play, they have failed to make solid contact – hitting line drives just 12% of the time (2nd only to the Diamondbacks).

(4) Stranding runners.

The relievers have stranded 93% of all runner put on base, head-and-shoulders above all the other clubs (the next closest is the Mets at 84%) and well-above the 71.7% average. Their current rate is bound to revert closer to the average, but for now it is working.    

Monday, April 12, 2010

Opening Day and Quick Review

As I ready myself for the home opener (i.e. paint my face and put on my Twins unitard), I replayed the final play of the Twins/White Sox series several times to figure out, you know, just what the hell happened. Here is a list of things that should be noteworthy as the play unfolded:

(1) Juan Pierre has a historically bad arm. Last year his arm was -2 runs defensive (10th worst in MLB). According to the Fans Scouting Report at, Pierre’s arm strength rating of 1.3 (out of 5) was the second-worst among left fielders, ahead of only Johnny Damon. Given the play deep against the USCellular wall, Pierre has to make (1a) a very strong throw and (1b) a very accurate throw.


(2) The infield defense was pulled around to the right for the Thome shift. Not a lot of teams work on cut offs from this alignment. If anything, you could bet there would be some sort of defensive breakdown under a scenario like that. The shortstop, Alexi Ramirez, who was supposed to be the cut on a ball hit to left field, was actually near center field. The third baseman, Mark Teahan, broke for third base then back out to the outfield to position himself for a cut. "I've never been on a team where the third baseman was the relay man in left-center," Hardy said. "That's what's weird about it."

Ullger admitted that he was not focused on Teahan, he was looking at (3) Alexi Ramirez, the designated cut-off man in that situation, who for the record, has what is considered an inaccurate arm. The human fungo bat committed six throwing errors last year and was scouted by the fans as having a 2.6 rating for arm accuracy. That, coupled with being completely out-of-position, makes it easier to keep that arm windmilling around for Hardy.

Only it wasn’t Ramirez who was fielding the relay, it was Mark Teahan and (4) Teahan has an absolute rocket for an arm. So now, 120 feet away from home plate, Teahan is lining up to receiving a cut from Pierre. At this point, Hardy is just about to round third when it is apparent that Pierre’s throw will reach Teahan and not careen off into the stands or skip up to him. Ullger can see this. It is developing right in front of him. Only, he’s looking towards Ramirez who is nowhere near the throw. Teahan fields it cleanly right as Hardy is pushing off third base and readies a throw to home. Reviewing the video, it is clear this is the point where Ullger realizes what has actually happened and wanders on to the playing surface (I thought he was going to try for the interception).


All this should probably be moot because (5) JJ Hardy is not fast. Still, with two outs, how isn’t Hardy already rounding second by the time the ball lands? Is he THAT slow? Truthfully, he might be. He’s gone from first to home on just a handful of occasions in his career. He doesn’t steal bases. According to the player profile, Hardy’s running skills are in the 11th percentile. That’s slow. At the same time, Thome's shot was on a rope so it is hard to get up to speed as quickly as the ball traveled (not to mention, Pierre was playing just a few steps short of the warning track anyways).

But at the same time (6) Nick Punto was due up next. Coming into the game, Punto was 2-for-12 and a 1-for-4 lifetime hitter off of Bobby Jenks. With just Alexi Casilla  – who was going to have to go in for Thome in the event of a tie – and Drew Butera remaining on the bench, there was no other option to face Jenks with two outs. In retrospect, yeah, letting Punto have a shot at driving in one or more runs wasn't such a bad option. 

Friday, April 09, 2010

Back on the Crain gang.

On Thursday night Jesse Crain faced four batters. After allowing Hideki Matsui to reach on a single he then proceeded to strike out Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera and Howie Kendrick on three sliders that were so indescribably nasty, it was something that even the guys from Jersey Shore wouldn't sleep with. 

Since a demotion to Rochester mid-season last year, Crain has re-established himself as a force in the Twins bullpen. After being recalled in July, Crain finished the season throwing 34 innings with a 2.91 ERA and a 30/15 K/BB ratio while not allowing a home run in that duration. This season, armed with several adjustments to his throwing style, the righty has picked up where he left off. In fact, judging from his 2.2 innings where he has allowed just one hit while striking out four in the young season, I'd venture to say he's even better than that - particularly with this improved out-pitch.

Using pitchF/X, we see several differences in Crain's slider from late last year to his first pair of outings this year:

 Crain's slider



















First, Crain has reduced the velocity - shaving off 4-mph and leading to a 10-mph difference from his fastball.  Last year's model only gave opponents a 6-mph difference. This differential will not only improve the breaking pitch but also quicken his fastball. Secondly, the current upgrade demonstrated a greater vertical drop with less horizontal movement, potentially incited more missed bats and groundballs. 

The chart below, lifted from, shows us how pitchF/X pitches are identified using their vertical and horizontal breaks. The fastballs and changeups have little vertical movement (in fact, with the backspin, fastballs typically rise) while the cutter through the curveball run the spectrum of horizontal and vertical movement: 

Using what was identified as Crain's slider from September 1st until the end of the season, we find that his slider fits neatly within the general area accepted to be a slider's spin:

However, when we compare that to the movement of this year's slider, we see that the points do not fall as readily into that area:

The vertical drop bleeds into the area that is typically assigned a curveball yet there is not enough horizontal break to label the pitch a "slurve". The reason it was not categorized as a curveball in Crain's case is because Crain throws his bender at 74-mph. 

This is a significant change in his slider. It could be that this speed variance and the break alteration are a byproduct of his reworked mechanics or a result of Crain staying back on more instead of rushing through his motion. Another possibility is that is an a newly introduced hybrid pitch. Whatever explanation the discrepancy between the two versions may be, the results thus far have been terrific. 

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A look at Hardy's new mechanics

When the Twins acquired JJ Hardy for Carlos Gomez, they assumed a product in Hardy who had offensive potential but was in need of repair.'s Alex Eisenberg documented this mechanical digression over the past several seasons. Essentially, Hardy attempted to make adjustments in 2009, beginning to bar his arm out in a more pronounced fashion (keeping his front arm straight instead of bending at the elbow) in addition to a very time-consuming leg-kick (lifting his leg, back in with a tap, then forward again). Visual evidence of this swing is seen below:

His numbers dropped substantially across the board. His wOBA dropped from .355 to .292. Holes in his swing were prevalent. This longer swing kept the shortstop from turning on pitches with much authority. In 2008, Hardy turned on 58% of pitches thrown inside, pulling them to left field with power (.969 slugging). A year later, he was yanking only 49% of inside pitches with a significant decrease in his power capabilities (.526 slugging).
Hardy Pitched Inside:


Slugging Pct On Pitches Pulled










You can see from the animation above that Hardy's tardy swing forces him to fight off the fastball inside instead of turning on it. 
When the Twins acquired him, they realized there were corrections that needed to be made. According to assistant GM Rob Antony the Twins had Joe Vavra dig into Hardy's problems. His conclusions were the same: long swing, arm barring out. Spring training was a process of ironing out these kinks and implementing an improved mechanical system was unveiled in Anaheim. Hardy has closed his stance a bit, removed the added toe-tap in his stride and added a bend in his elbow. All this in conjunction has quickened his swing and moved him through the hitting zone rapidly:

This faster swing has gotten Hardy to open up his hips more when attacking the pitch: 

As you can tell from the top image, Hardy is still back while the pitch is almost at to the hitting zone. In the lower image, Hardy is driving towards the ball, already moving his hips and upper body towards to zone. This is a stark contrast from the above image in which Hardy is still loaded.  

Through three games, Hardy is 4-for-12 with two home run. While his contact rate needs improvement, this is a step in the right direction for the 27-year-old. Like Kelsie Smith noted in the Pioneer Press this morning, the early returns are favorable for the newest Twins shortstop. "I shortened up my swing; my stance is a lot different. My hands aren't as far away from my body as they were in '09, which makes it a lot easier to get to the ball." Hardy told Smith after Wednesday's game. "It was a full year of creating bad habits, and it's taken some time to get rid of them, but I feel like I'm on the right path." 

This certainly bodes well for him and an swift return to his pre-2009 performance level.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

OtB Opening Day Notes

Denard Span had a rough first night, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. After taking 8 pitches in a decent plate appearance to start the game, Span struck out looking, then swinging in the 3rd and again in the 7th. It was his first game with three or more strikeouts since his 0-for-4 four strikeout night against Detroit on September 20th, 2009. 

Likewise, Scott Baker's night began shaky - perhaps because of nerves or excitement. His first inning was littered with erratic offerings, missing wildly with his fastball and curve. I tweeted during the game that his release point was wandering that inning. As a result, his slider and other off-speed offerings stayed up in the zone. 

Here is a pitch type map of last night (note the orange square for slider):

Here is a pitch type map for an October 1st, 2009 start (note the orange square for slider):

Obviously, Baker works up in the zone regularly with his fastball but his slider is typically down in the zone when he is on (as you can see above in his 10/1/09 outing against Detroit). Last night, Angels hitters were able to sit on fastball. In fact, his confidence in his other pitches waned so much that at one point in the 5th inning, Baker threw 10-straight fastballs, mixed in a change-up before throwing two more fastballs to Hideki Matsui that resulted in an RBI single.

Mauer struck out looking in the 3rd inning. In 2009, Mauer struck out looking 11 times

Delmon Young's first home run of the season - as Darren Wolfson noted last night - was equal to his April and May production combined last year. What stood out to me, even before he took that swing, was Young was using the same mechanics from his second-half of the 2009 season. As I documented in December, Young's new muted leg kick was helping him elevate the ball more leading to more home runs. Unfortunately, within the same game, we also witnessed why Young will continue to be frustrating. After Angels reliever Fernando Rodney opened the 8th inning with four-consecutive balls to Michael Cuddyer then proceeded to fall behind Jason Kubel, Young hacked at the first pitch that was out of the zone, rolling it over for an inning-ending double play.

Speaking of Rodney, the Angels signed him to a two-year, $11 million contract this offseason, to see his fastball reach 90.3-mph last night. This is a 5-mph decrease from last October when he was chucking his heat at 95.4-mph. 

Monday, April 05, 2010

Would the committee approach be more effective?


On Friday, Ron Gardenhire officially disbanded the closer-by-committee. KARE 11’s Dave Schwatz relayed the decision on Twitter, noting that the manager had anointed Jon Rauch his closer to at least begin the 2010 season. Rauch’s resume, which has closer experience listed, gave him the edge over the other internal applicants. At the same time, Rauch’s work history is not without its warts.

On Saturday, Darren Wolfson inquired with baseball analytical guru Jonah Keri what his preference would be: Committee or moving forward with Rauch?  Keri told Wolfson that he favored the committee in theory but went on to say that “the challenge of that approach is that requires all pitchers to be ready to go at any time, as opposed to now where everyone can have a set routine, not only for the closer but also the designated 7th and 8th inning guys.”

The decision to entrust one pitcher versus the committee approach gives the Twins a stabilized bullpen routine and limits the need for management at the end of the game but at the same time, using just one might not be the most optimal use of the resources, particularly if none of them are of Nathan’s caliber. Unlike Nathan, all of the other four candidates listed (Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares and Jesse Crain) have various flaws in their game in different situations. For example, Guerrier has been crushed by the heart of the order whereas Rauch has been very effective in retiring the three-four-five hitters the past two seasons. Meanwhile, when runners are on base, Rauch has been smacked around at a higher clip while Mijares and Guerrier have been able to work out of those types of jams with relative ease.

The follow is a cheat sheet of six scenarios that Ron Gardenhire can print out and post in the dugout based on the past two seasons worth of data to traverse the 8th or 9th inning in 2010 that will ensure the most favorable matchups:

What if the heart of the order – the opposing team’s three, four and five hitters – were due up?


Batters Faced

OPS against

Guerrier, Matt



Mijares, Jose



Rauch, Jon



Crain, Jesse



When facing theoretically the three best hitters in an opponent’s lineup, Matt Guerrier has been the one subjected to the most punishment. In addition to holding the highest OPS among the four the past two years, he’s also allowed 13 home runs, 11 doubles and a triple. Mijares on the other hand, has had the least amount of battle damage, yet his 96 matchups are by far the fewest bringing sample size into question. Still, he’s struck out the highest percentage (24%) but five if his 19 hits allowed were of the very long ball variety. At the same time, Rauch has almost duplicated Mijares’s OPS in twice the matchups while allowing just three home runs leading to the lowest slugging percentage against (.376).

Use: Jon Rauch. In the past two seasons, Rauch has been one of the best when facing the opposing team’s best hitters. He may not have the strikeout capability that Nathan or Mijares have but he’s very effective at getting outs.

A left-handed heavy portion of the lineup is due up in the ninth, who do you call on?


Batters Faced


OPS against

Guerrier, Matt




Mijares, Jose




Rauch, Jon




Crain, Jesse




Naturally, Mijares is the guy if you have not already spent him in the 7th or 8th inning. Portside opponents have hit just .153 off of him while touching him for just four extra base hits since 2008. Perhaps a little surprising, the next best alternative is Matt Guerrier. Guerrier allows a high amount of contact but it mostly results in harmless groundballs (54.7%) off of the bat. Rauch, meanwhile, gives up far too many fly balls leading to a .409 slugging percentage against as they drift into the bleachers.

Use: Jose Mijares/Matt Guerrier. Mijares might be another interesting closer option later in the year if the Twins are willing to give Ron Mahay some LOOGY responsibilities freeing Mijares up for save situations. Guerrier incites plenty of groundballs off of left-handed bats – a perfect use for the new and improved middle infield as well as giving Mijares a night off.

A righty-heavy portion of the lineup is due up in the ninth, who do you call on?


Batters Faced


OPS against

Guerrier, Matt




Mijares, Jose




Rauch, Jon




Crain, Jesse




At first blush, Rauch appears ideal – he’s retired 75% of right-handed opponents faced since ’08 – however, righties have shown that they can tag him pretty hard too. In that time, they have hit nine home runs and another 15 for extra bases. With a one or two-run lead, that could become a problem. Guerrier’s another choice but, once again, susceptible to the occasional home run.

Use: Surprisingly, Crain is the best use of resources – assuming the righties are not in the heart-of-the-order (which is Rauch territory), consider deploying Crain. In addition to the miserly home run allowed totals, performing well against same-sided opponents is about the one thing Crain had working for him.

Who is going to navigate out of trouble once runners are on base?


Batters Faced

OPS against

Guerrier, Matt



Mijares, Jose



Rauch, Jon



Crain, Jesse



Mijares is the best option if runners end up on base. He’s allowed just three home runs with a total of six extra base hits resulting in a slugging percentage of .279. This is nearly .100 points lower than Crain and Guerrier who both turned in a .371 slugging percentage allowed. Furthermore, Guerrier is a front-runner for Mr. Idaho because he was chock full o’ taters. With runners on base, he’s allowed 10 home runs since ‘08. Likewise, Rauch, who was tightfisted with the dingers when facing the heart of the order, allowed seven home runs in a total of 21 extra base hits for a .445 slugging percentage allowed.  Still, if you are looking to get a groundball for that all-important double play, Guerrier leads the pack with a 43.7% groundball rate.

Use: If you find yourself in a predicament with either Rauch or Crain on the mound, quickly break glass and bring in Jose Mijares. Short of that, Matt Guerrier’s the next in line.

Runner on third, less than two outs. Who will keep the hitter from lofting that sacrifice fly and keep the tying/go-ahead run stranded?


Batters Faced


OPS against

Guerrier, Matt




Mijares, Jose




Rauch, Jon




Crain, Jesse




Clearly within this small sample Guerrier is the superior pitcher. His ability to keep opponents from getting any elevation has led to a good 76.7% left-on-base rate since 2008. Mijares’s is just the opposite of Guerrier – no, that zero is not a typo – he’s not induced any groundball contact. Similar to his experience with runners on base above, Rauch has struggled in this scenario. Not only does he hold a .360 average (9-for-25), 13 of the 27 balls in play were considered “well hit”. Crain too was another victim of abuse, carrying a 71.2% left-on-base rate the past two seasons, because of a .450 average (9-for-20) with a runner on third.

Use: Matt Guerrier. His ability to keep the ball on the ground and retire hitters works well in this circumstance.

Alex Rodriguez is up representing the tying run. Who do you call in?





Guerrier, Matt



HR, 2B, BB

Mijares, Jose




Rauch, Jon



1B, BB

Crain, Jesse




In the most miniscule of sample sizes, Crain holds an advantage by not allowing a hit at all in the past two seasons.  Over his career, Crain has tangled with the Yankee superstar 13 times and allowed just one hit (a single). You almost have to keep calling his number until Rodriguez proves he can get to him too.

Use: Jesse Crain. Then pray to the gods of small sample size this works.