Thursday, September 30, 2010

Is Blackburn having mechanical issues?

Tuesday night’s game witnessed a significant deviation from what has become expected of Nick Blackburn since his recall.

After being sprung from the boondocks of northwestern New York, Blackburn had consistently enticed opponents to beat the ball into the turf. With the exception of one start in Seattle, the Twins right-hander has been able to coerce more groundballs than fly balls -- groundball’s less attractive cousin. This was a strong indication that he had rediscovered his sink on his two-seamer, one of two tasks he was asked to perform when he was sent back down to Rochester.

This departure from the recent batted ball results may raise (tiny) flags for the Twins anticipated fourth starter in the postseason:

Nick Blackburn’s batted ball distribution

Fly Balls
Line Drives
86 (53.4%)
54 (33.5%)
21 (13.0%)
6 (30%)
11 (55%)
3 (15%)

Obviously, this is an insanely small sample size to draw any real conclusion however several questions can be present that examines why the results differed so greatly from the rest of September.

As noted above, during his demotion Blackburn was directed to work on two things that had been hindering his season: his off-speed stuff and his mechanics.

Since returning to Minnesota, Blackburn has enhanced his variety and changed his speeds extremely well. Likewise, his polished mechanics has led to additional sink on his two-seamer. This combination had yielding a tremendous stretch of starts in which Blackburn had posted a 1.97 ERA as opponents appeared flummoxed at the new-look Nick.

Unfortunately, the Royals put the kibosh on that feelgoodery.

While still working in his changeup and curveball, staying true to his newfound art of variety, Blackburn was roasted on his two-seamer as Kansas City smeared that pitch across the Missouri night sky. With opponents elevating his two-seamer all over the place, this raised the issue of whether or not his mechanics had retreated to his pre-demotion days.

Following Tuesday night’s outing, Blackburn dismissed that sentiment:

"I'm really not concerned about what happened tonight. Obviously, I'm not happy about it, but I'm not too concerned. I've been throwing the ball well lately. My mechanics -- didn't feel like there were any issues there. That's been my problem the whole season whenever things aren't going well. Tonight I just wasn't hitting spots."

In a contrast to what the starter would say, during the FSN postgame show, Robby Incmikoski noted that Ron Gardenhire told reporters in the clubhouse that pitching coach Rick Anderson noticed something in Nick Blackburn’s delivery that may have influenced his ability to get the proper sink on his fastball and thus incite grounders.

Without access to the video of the start ( posts only “highlights” and this start was anything but), examining the pitch through’s pitch f/x system might be the next most telling data source.

Reviewing the movement at, we can see that there is a discrepancy in the overall “downward” movement of his two-seamer. As a primer, below is Mike Fast’s introductory chart of how pitches should move based on their spin. In short, the lower the area, the more “downward” action a pitch has (splitters and changeups have this sort of motion). Similarly, the more the pitch winds up to the right of the axis, the more lateral movement a pitch has (hence sliders, curves and cutters are typically to the right of the axis).

During his tumultuous early season struggles, Blackburn’s main pitch, the two-seamed fastball, had little drop in it on Tuesday night:

Granted, this pitch reflects the type of movement a two-seamer is supposed to have, yet it is not the same motion it has when Blackburn has his varsity squad two-seamer working. This type of movement was very reminiscent of his pre-demotion days:

Now compare those two to the drop of his two-seamer from August 25th onward:

Clearly, Blackburn’s two-seamer had far less drop on it than it had in the prior six starts. Given Rick Anderson’s ability to diagnose pitchers well, it is likely that something went astray in his mechanics causing the sinking fastball to stay up in the zone.

For Blackburn, the question is whether this is a slight mechanical hiccup or a complete derailment from his progress established since returning from Rochester. As a pitcher on the bubble for being a spot in the playoff rotation, Blackburn has one more start left to prove that it was the former rather than the latter. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

OtB Twins Notes

According to the PiPress’s John Shipley, Carl Pavano reviewed video footage of his outing on Saturday – trying to make sense of the five-run, fifth inning outburst he allowed to the Tigers which included a trifecta of home runs. “I look at some of the sequences I used against different guys, and maybe I was a little strong. Physically I felt great. I feel strong. I felt good coming out of the pen.” The Twins starter told reporters. Clearly, after allowing home runs on 0-2 and 1-2 counts to Alex Aviles and Don Kelly (both on fastballs), Pavano may want to reconsider throw either his slider (6.2 runs above average) or changeup (10.4 runs above average) which have been very effective for the veteran.

In the top of the fifth on Saturday, Jason Repko was drilled by an Eddie Bonine 0-2 88-mile per hour fastball that caught the right fielder in the top hand while holding the bat. According to’s Kelly Theiser, the x-rays came back negative for any structural damage. Repko was lifted for Ben Revere. (Revere would finish the night 0-for-3, failing to drive J.J. Hardy home from scoring position twice.) Repko, having cooled off considerably himself since his hot start following his call-up, has hit just .169/.272/.169 since August 11th and has not had an extra base hit in those 81 plate appearances. No matter, Repko has provided an upgrade defensively over Jason Kubel in the outfield. While   Kubel has save -2 runs in 609 innings in right, Repko has been +2 in is 218 defensive innings according to John Dewan’s Plus/Minus accounting system.

Speaking of defense, it is plays like this one by Orlando Hudson, making a diving catch on a seemingly uncatchable ball, that reaffirms why the Twins second baseman is currently the Plus/Minus leader among second baseman (+23).

While his defensive has been spectacular and steady, Hudson has had his offensive numbers plummet dramatically over the second-half of the season, particularly in the month of September. After coming into the month with an above-average .358 on-base percentage, that number has dropped to .337 after failing to reach base in seven plate appearances on Saturday. Opponents have attacked Hudson consistently in September, throwing him pitches in the zone regularly in September (52%). Unlike last month where the switch-hitting Hudson produced a .358 BABIP, the balls that the second baseman is putting into play just aren’t finding turf this month (.233 BABIP). Equally responsible for the decline in OBP is Hudson’s inability to draw walks. Much like Span earlier in the season, Hudson’s has had a sudden disappearance in free passes – a byproduct of opponents attacking the strike zone more this month (52% zone rate). His .187 OBP for the month of September is only better than the Angels Alberto Callaspo and Peter Bourjos.

Denard Span fouled a ball off of his right foot on Saturday and was excused from Sunday’s game. This minor incident comes on the heels of his MRI on his right shoulder, necessitated by soreness in the area dating back to a June series in Oakland. The Twins center fielder told ESPN1500’s Phil Mackey that he was experiencing discomfort during his swing on his follow-through and extension. After a rebound month of May, Span’s totals dropped considerably, particularly after the West Coast roadtrip in which the injury occurred – hitting .275/.333/.362 since then in 407 plate appearances.

According to Inside Edge, Danny Valencia’s .398 average against left-handed pitchers is currently fourth best in baseball. Likewise, his .211 well-hit average on pitches up in the zone is third-best in baseball.

Even with a back injury, one that may be worse than initial thought, Jim Thome’s .784 slugging percentage against fastballs is the best in baseball. This is a significant improvement over his .457 slugging from a year ago.

FoxSport’s Jon Morosi wrote two columns on topics that may influence the Twins’ postseason. The first being the Morneau discussion, indicating that GM Bill Smith isn’t nearly as dismissive of a return from the first baseman as the field manager is. The second outlines the concerns surrounding Francisco Liriano has the team’s number one starter in the ALDS. Certainly Liriano has been dominant at times yet he has also flashed moments of being overwhelmed.  Still, while Morosi considered it a “question mark”, his counterpart, Tim Kurkjian, proclaimed it a “fitting choice for a pitcher who has had a terrific season.”

Pat Neshek gives us an inside look at the Twins rookie hazing. My personal favorite is the spot-on Ace & Gary tandem of Jeff Manship and Drew Butera.

At the Hardball Times, Chris Jaffe took to the task of assigning all major league teams a Simpson character. The Twins got labeled Waylon Smithers. Not sure how I feel about this but his explanation was on the mark. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Celebrating Brian Duensing

Back on July 9, the Twins were mired in the midst of losing spell. They had dropped 13 of their past 20 contests and fans were subjected to a pummeling at the claws of the then division-leading Tigers.
That day in Motown, Francisco Liriano had lasted just one full inning plus two additional outs in the second but relinquished seven earned runs, hitting two batters and walking another pair.  The unofficial ace of the staff, Liriano had not recorded a win in any of his previous four starts (almost a month without a victory) and had compiled a nasty 6.75 ERA despite a very strong 30-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26.2 innings. Liriano aside, in that particular stretch of baseball, the entire rotation appeared in disarray.
It was on that day, with the team three games down to the Tigers and carrying a seemingly fried pitching staff, which the team learned of Texas’s acquisition of Seattle’s Cliff Lee.
Just a few weeks prior, columnist Jim Souhan dropped an article that implored the Twins to execute the swap. His reasoning (like many of us) was that:
“[T]he starting pitching is just not good enough to propel the Twins to a playoff victory over a big-money team. The current rotation might not even be good enough to win the AL Central.”
Lee was the Ron Burgundy of the pitching world; he threw pitches so fine, he made Liriano look like a hobo. Conventionally, he was on top of the mountain. He was carrying an 8-3 record in 13 starts coupled with an otherworldly 14.83 K/BB ratio. For us statheads, Lee was also rocking a 3.21 xFIP that had us amped up at the computers in our mothers’ basements, tweeting away lustfully at the idea of having him during the postseason.
After the news came through to the visiting clubhouse in Detroit that the Rangers were the victors in the Lee sweepstakes, veteran pitcher Carl Pavano spoke diplomatically about the news:
"The reality of it is we have what we need here, and we have to do it. It doesn't change anything whether we do or don't get him. It doesn't change what each person in this locker room has to do, and that's go out and play good baseball. For myself personally, it's going out and winning ballgames."
The Twins’ wizened, feather-duster sporting member of the rotation was correct in assuming that the team had to move on with the hand that was dealt. But, too, in many ways, Souhan was correct: That current rotation was not going to cut it in the Central.
Nick Blackburn had completely unraveled and was unable to figure out how to keep opponents from smashing the ball all over the field. He would make just three more starts post-July 9th, allowing 15 runs in 11 innings with a gaudy .750 opponent slugging percentage that would require a trip back to Rochester to figure out how to stop throwing pitches as delicious as bacon. Once thought of to be a candidate to be exchanged for the vaunted Lee, Blackburn would be ousted from the rotation.
In what was typically Blackburn’s spot in the rotation, the Twins plugged in left-hander Brian Duensing. Paired mainly against left-handed opponents, Duensing had done a fabulous job out of the pen, working 43 innings and allowing just eight runs on his watch thanks to a low .214 opponent average. On July 23, a 96-degree night in Maryland and limited to a strict 70-pitch night due to the lack of endurance built up, Duensing held the offensively-challenged Baltimore Orioles to one run over five innings. A Joe Mauer two-run home run in the top of the sixth put the Twins up by one but the lead would disintegrate at the hands of the bullpen.
Since that abbreviated first start, Duensing would supply the Twins with 10 more starts (and an added relief appearance two days after a start to boot), holding opponents to a 2.54 ERA as well as a devilish 666 OPS. The Twins would go 8-3 in those 11 appearances while Duensing would go 7-1, his only personal loss being to Cliff Lee’s new team.
For his part, Lee was having a rough introduction to his new organization. In his first outing against the Orioles, the same lineup that Duensing would shut down a few days later, the lefty threw a complete game but allowed three home runs and six runs in the smaller, overheated bandbox than he was previously used to in Seattle. Including that game, Lee has made 13 starts, posting a rather un-Lee-like 4.10 ERA (despite a very similar 3.26 xFIP from his Seattle days) thanks to another 11 home runs allowed and the Rangers would be the proud owners of a 5-8 record in his starts.
To be sure, Lee has pitched remarkably well in the Lone Star State, as evidence by his very good expected fielding independent numbers. Simply put, the confines have changed. While only 4% of his fly balls managed to escape the park on him when in a Mariners uniform (once again, attributed to that offensive-depleting Safeco) he’s suffered a plexiglass effect once in the hotter Texas air as 9% of his fly balls escaped (closer to his career average).
Meanwhile, Duensing has been nothing short of extraordinary for the Twins. While often overlooked, Duensing delivers stuff dirtier than most observers realize which completely neutralizes left-handed opponents. Because of this fact, opponents have made significant adjustments to their lineups, removing some otherwise left-handed hitting threats, because of Duensing’s capabilities. In all, the southpaw has supplied Minnesota with 1.583 Wins Probability Added while his counterpart in Lee has procured 0.194 Wins Probability Added for his Rangers.
It’s hard to say what sort of production Lee would have if he were pitching in an environment at Target Field which is closer to that of Safeco. Frankly, to say that the Twins didn’t need Cliff Lee would be disingenuous as anyone would admit they would welcome an arm like Lee’s during the postseason. However, by not trading either Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, Wilson Ramos or Ben Revere to obtain the lefty, the Twins were able to retain at least one starter for the playoffs (the trip to Rochester has done wonders for Blackburn) while adding depth to the bullpen by later trading Ramos for Matt Capps at the trade deadline. What’s more is that Duensing has been equally as good, if not better, than Lee at zero cost to the Twins organization.
In the end, the Rangers would have likely made it to the playoffs without the assistance of Cliff Lee, sitting comfortably with an eight –game lead over Oakland. And certainly Lee makes them a better once in the postseason. On the other hand, there is a distinct possibility that the Twins would not be champagne-drenched without the emergence of Brian Duensing. For that, the non-trade needs to be celebrated.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Valencia's power generation

Since his arrival in early June, Danny Valencia has sustained a very solid batting average and supplemented that with an equally outstanding on-base percentage (buoyed by batted ball inflation but will discuss that this offseason). His fairly compact, contact-oriented swing produced numerous line drives and several that ran the gap for extra bases helping elevate his slugging percentage to respectable levels. Still, like his numbers in the upper minor leagues, home runs were hit at a premium.

In his first 257 plate appearances with the Twins, Valencia socked just a pair of round-trippers – this coming after not hitting any in Rochester in another 202 plate appearances. Suddenly, over the course of the past five games and 20 plate appearances, the third baseman has tagged opponents for three home runs, giving the Twins an added long ball threat in the lower part of the order as of late.

Here we see Valencia’s isolated power average steadily rising as the season progresses:

Prior to last night’s game, FSN’s sideline reporter, Ron Coomer, offered his analysis of Valencia’s swing mechanics, noting that the key to his recent power bender has been the rookie’s ability to make contact out in front of his body therefore leveraging his lower half of his body and generating more torque to launch the ball deep into the September night sky. Said Coomer: 
“The thing that he has been doing lately is he’s been catching the ball out in front. Great stiff front side, great extension with his head snapping down. When he’s hitting the ball out front, he’s driving it out of the park.”
Coomer’s observation of Valencia’s leverage is spot-on however the FSN commentator overlooked a critical element that has been a large factor for his surge: his leg kick. 

Prior to the Cleveland series, Valencia had a muted leg kick. While at a slight open-stance, the righty would make a small step towards the plate, then rock back on his front foot while keeping his toe planted with the exception for a small lift to transfer his weight back. From this side view during a game against Seattle in August, here is a shot of the apex of Valenica’s loading:

This was Valencia completely loaded and beginning his drive towards the ball.

Now compare that to his more recent swing in which Valencia lifts his front leg and drives forward at the pitcher – generating added power from his legs then he had down in the past:

Clearly, this shot, captured during his home run against Jeanmar Gomez on September 20th, reveals that Valencia his loading his weight significantly better leading to his ability to drive the ball out in front of his body with that aforementioned leverage noted by Ron Coomer. This lower-half shift helps generate additional power that his previous mechanics which are heavily reliant on his upper body.

The following night, on September 21st, Valencia drove in a pair of runs on a single, we were privy to another angle of this revamped mechanics to compare to the previous version. Back in August, we can see how little of lift Valencia used in his front leg:

Comparatively, here’s the same angle before his single in September:

The early returns for Valencia’s adjusted mechanics are favorable. His keen batting eye and connectivity have been complimented with a fusion of power, helping give the Twins a very deep lineup. He’s hitting the ball with more vigor and, with the playoffs looming less than two weeks away, the timing could not have been better for Valencia. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Brian Duensing's very good slider

After slipping into the rotation in late July in the place of an ineffective Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing has provided the Twins with nothing less than consistent performances. Thus far, the 27-year-old has helped the team continue the second-half surge by supplying an 8-3 record in his 11 starts. Although last night’s outing against Cleveland witnessed his control wane throughout his six innings of work -- as evidenced by his four walks -- for the most part the lefty kept the lineup off-balanced to scatter three earned runs on six hits, recording his seventh victory as a starter.

How does a pitcher like Duensing, who doesn’t have overwhelming velocity and pitches to contact, manage to procure such a solid 3.99 xFIP?

Admittedly, there is an element of luck (or rather, things going his way) in his limited capacity this year. First, Duensing had the advantage of being a situational lefty for an extended period helping pad his statistics in favorable match-ups in the first-half of the season. Also, considering that his left-on-base rate of 82.8% is well-above the league norm of 72.1% in addition to a tidy .275 BABIP contrasting with a .302 league average, one can easily conclude that the long-term results will probably not jive with his current output.

Breaking down his batted ball statistics further, we find that the southpaw has had the benefit of some extraordinarily good defense when it comes to grounders. As a groundball-leaning pitcher (51% groundball rate), Duensing has been supported by a miniscule .199 BABIP on those grassburners while the remainder of the league has an average of .234 on those as well. This is a testament to the above average up-the-middle combination of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson who have, for the most part, been healthy in the second-half of the season. Eventually, even with the middle infield guardians with his back, this number will likely equalize resulting in a few more hits and fewer runners stranded on base.  

Of course, there is also little indication that he will regress that hard either.

Part of the reason for what makes him such an effective pitcher is his possession of a very good slider. When the announcement was made that Duensing would move to the rotation, analyst (and former Inside Edge writer like myself) David Golebiewski relayed that back in 2007, Baseball America graded out all of his pitches to be “average or a tick above at times.” While there may be nothing devastating about his slider visibly (unlike Francisco Liriano’s which bends both space and time), the numbers clearly indicate that Duensing’s offering is better than advertised (or, at least, better than perceived).

According to’s Pitch Value, Duensing’s 12.7 runs above average on his slider is the fifth-best among AL pitchers with a minimum of 100 innings. What’s more is that only Liriano (21.7 runs above average) and New York’s CC Sabathia (15.5) are the only two left-handers with better totals on their sliders.

When he was mainly working to lefties out of the bullpen, Duensing demonstrated that he was extremely tough on his wrong-handed brethren – particularly with that slider. Lefties have been fortunately enough to hit just .102 (224 OPS) off of his slider, missing on 44% of their swings (versus a 31% league average in that category). This continued into his starting role as opposing managers recognized how lethal he can be on the lefties and has since seen a reduction in the amount of those match-ups.

This is fairly comparable results to the damage Liriano has inflicted with his slider:

Duensing & Liriano’s Slider: Side by Side Comparison

Well-Hit Avg
B. Duensing
F. Liriano
League Average

Naturally, there is plenty of difference in the duo’s sliders and their deployment. While Duensing avoids throwing his to righties (13% of pitches), Liriano has no qualms tossing his (29% of pitches). Likewise, Liriano favors his pitch whenever he has two-strikes (51% thrown with two-strikes) on a hitter while Duensing still uses his fastball more frequent over his slider (27% thrown with two-strikes). Physically, while Liriano’s pitch is thrown at a greater velocity (85.9-mph) than that of Duensing’s (81.6-mph), Duensing’s slider has a greater vertical drop and a bit more pronounced horizontal movement on average according to pitch f/x.

So while Liriano’s slider is obviously the crème-de-la-crème of baseball, Duensing’s slider has been outstanding in its own right. As the Twins start planning on the postseason rotation, they have two very formidable left-handed starters capable of silencing left-handed bats – be it Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson – providing an advantage in the short series.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Nick Blackburn has it figured out.

While the list of second-half heroes for the Twins is expansive and growing with each series, another late addition to that catalog deserves recognition.
Nick Blackburn started the year signing a four-year extension and demonstrated his appreciation by getting lit up in the season’s first month. A reassuring May was followed by an equally disappointing June and by July, the financially-secure Blackburn was suddenly a candidate for a demotion.
Reports emerged that Blackburn was not following his pitching coach’s instructions and not changing speeds adequately. As you can see from the velocity chart below, Blackburn’s velocity range was muted in comparison to his two previous seasons in a Twins uniform:

Hitters jumped all over his stuff in July and were waxing the ball all over the field. Without his groundballs abilities, Blackburn was like a hiker without a compass – he was lost. In all, the right-hander tossed 104 innings, allowing 19 home runs coupled with a pitiful 35-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
After being shuttled to Rochester in late July with explicit instructions to “figure it out”, Blackburn has shown that he has definite solved his problems. Since his return, Blackburn has worked 31.2 innings, allowed just six earned runs (1.71 ERA) and has posted a 20-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His results since his recall have been that much more impressive considering the injuries to Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey could have placed the team in peril during the playoff push.
What had made this all possible is that the groundball pitcher rediscovered how to incite groundballs again: 

The catalyst behind this scorched earth increase is basic – Blackburn is showing hitters a variety of speeds rather than inundate them with the fastball.
Nick Blackburn’s repertoire:
Because he is opting to throw more off-speed pitches, opponents are no longer squaring up on his two-seam fastball. Instead, they often find themselves out-front on a swing and wind up beating the ball into the ground rather than elevating the pitch as they did when Blackburn was extremely transparent in the first half of the season.  
In addition to the groundballs, this approach has also led to a greater influx of swinging strikes. In the first half, Blackburn’s failure to get any hitters to miss his pitches was puzzling. While he was never a swing-and-miss type pitcher, in the past Blackburn managed to keep his swinging strike rate near the league average (10% career rate heading into 2010). By the end of July, Blackburn had inspired only 3% of total swings to miss, well below the 15% norm. Since the return, the righty has prompted 8% swinging strikes – leading to a respectable 5.8 K/9 ratio in that time.
While the Twins look to reduce that Magic Number, Blackburn will take the rubber again tonight against Oakland - a team that had throttled him for five runs on 10 hits in 2.2 innings in June. Clearly, this is not the same Blackburn that faced the A’s at the beginning of the summer and because of his swift turnaround, Blackburn has undoubtedly earned the consideration for a postseason starter.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why did Flores favor his fastball?

In the bottom of the 11th on Saturday night’s tryst with Cleveland, Ron Gardenhire summoned left-handed specialist, Randy Flores, out of the pen and deployed him to dispose of the Indians’ two high-profile lefties in Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner. Only Flores, the pitcher claimed off the Rockies roster in August to specifically retire left-handed opponents, failed to meet his job description. 
Favoring his fastball, Flores allowed back-to-back singles by Choo and Hafner and quickly put the Twins in jeopardy of potentially losing two consecutive games to the lowly Indians. Only a well-concocted and executed defensive play combined with Matt Guerrier’s pitching saved Flores from being responsible for allowing what would have been the winning run to reach base.
According to La Velle E Neal, the manager took exception to Flores’s decision to throw fastballs to the left-handed pair rather than his slider. “If I wanted a fastball thrown I would have put a right-hander in,” commented Gardenhire. La Valle continued by saying:
A White Sox scout here said [on Sunday] that all the scouts in the stands were wondering the same thing. Twins catcher Joe Mauer was calling for breaking balls but Flores was shaking him off. Flores told Gardy that he had been giving up hits off his breaking balls lately.
When thrown effectively, sliders will break out of the zone down-and-away from opponents and incite either empty swings or weak contact on out-of-zone balls. By not having the confidence in his slider to throw it to Choo or Hafner, Flores made the admission that his ability to retire hitters has greatly diminished. Since his acquisition he’s only been asked to take care of 13 batters, eight of which were left-handed. Of the eight, he has now only successfully retired one.
What was Flores's reasoning behind not throwing a slider (or curve for that matter) under those circumstances to Choo and Hafner?
"We talked about it,'' Gardenhire said. "He told me he was being really stubborn because he's given up a couple hits on breaking balls. So he went out there and was stubborn."
Admittedly, Flores does have an acute self-awareness as his last three sliders that have been put into play have resulted in hits. Left-handed opponents are slugging .615 against his slider this year as well – the second-highest mark among southpawed relievers – so his decision to shake off Joe Mauer has merit. Meanwhile, same-sided opponents have slugged just .333 off of his fastball. Then again, even with that sort of logic, this behavior does not appease the manager:
"That's really overthinking," Gardenhire said. "He really wants to be part of this and do his job but you can't overthink these things."
When the Twins picked up Mahay from the Royals late last year, the first thing they did was convince him to throw his slider more frequently. Mahay went from dishing out his slider just 19% of the time while in Kansas City to chucking it 32% of the time in Minnesota. Not surprising, his batting average allowed dropped from .321 to .216. Unlike Mahay, whom the Twins were successful at persuading him to throw his slider regularly, Flores does appear completely onboard with this policy.
Of course, not throwing this pitch would make him an outsider among the bullpen ranks as the Twins relievers serve up more sliders than your standard White Castle. Among the 32 teams, Minnesota’s bullpen tosses sliders 28.2% of the time – the second most in baseball behind the Chicago Cubs. Dating back to 2005, the Twins have been at the top of the league in amount of sliders thrown. Clearly, this is a philosophical decision to have relievers that favor this type of pitch. Which is presumably why Gardenhire was upset over Flores's decision to shake off Mauer: The Twins have a gameplan and would like their pitchers to execute said gameplan.
What’s more is that it works for them. Using’s Pitch Value total (more information on that statistic here), the Twins’ relievers are 35.8 runs above average when throwing their sliders which is the best in baseball. This is an outstanding figure, meaning that the Twins are retiring a lot of their opponents when using this pitch. But for his part Flores has been a detriment when throwing his, contributing -1.2 runs to the total when throwing his slider since coming over to the Twins.
Needless to say, this appearance and the ensuing response from the manager may have a seriously negative effect on the 34-year-old lefty. With left-handers Jose Mijares and Brian Fuentes both returning from injuries and both being better options to retire lefties, Flores’s window opportunity to demonstrate that he can be useful component on the team’s playoff roster may have closed on Saturday night.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Hardy will be back next year

In last night’s 10-3 routing over the wayward Kansas City Royals, the Twins had limelight contributions from key players like Delmon Young and yet (another) epic blast by Jim Thome. Perhaps overshadowed by the two sluggers were the three RBIs provided off the bat of shortstop J.J. Hardy.

To be frank, Hardy’s first season as a Twin has been one that has been all kinds of enigmatic.

When the Twins received Hardy, they acquired a downgraded product. Hardy’s swing was a hot mess and he was shipped to AAA in the Brewers organization to work on his approach in 2009. Convinced they could attend to Hardy’s mechanical needs, the Twins were willing to take on the challenge of rebuilding what was once an elite shortstop. The implemented changes are very apparent but the actual results have been very much connected to his health in what has been a segmented season.

In his first segment, from the beginning of the season until May 4, Hardy demonstrating little in the way of on-base abilities but managed to drop a few bombs and collect several doubles on his way to a .250/.299/.400 start. A bruised hand, gained when Hardy was sliding into third in Detroit, sidelined the shortstop of a portion of time in the early going and potentially stymied his progress with the new mechanics.

After the breather, Hardy came back at the end of May only to figure out that his wrist was still not yet 100%. In those 40 plate appearances, Hardy recorded just five hits and one extra base hit (a double). Concerns over the wrist landed him on the disabled list for the second time in the season.

Unlike his initial stint on the DL, Hardy was given the opportunity to heal (along with a refreshing cortisone shot), and his return during the Fourth of July weekend proved to be the jumpstart he needed to make everything click at the plate. Since his July 3 return, Hardy has batted .303/.353/.428 with a pair of home runs and 11 doubles in 172 plate appearances.

Hardy’s truncated season can be viewed in a myriad of ways. If you are looking at the sum, obviously the numbers are disappointing. His overall .262/.312/.383 batting line is a far cry from the anticipated return to his pre-2009 form. At the same time, when you consider the advancements the 27-year-old has made adapting to refurbished mechanics as well as battling through injuries, Hardy’s season is much more reassuring that he can be an above average offensive contributor out of a historically defensive-oriented position.

J.J. Hardy’s Split Season

First Half
Second Half

Above all, Hardy’s first-half of the season presumably lowers his earnings potential that he could have achieved had he posted numbers similar to his second-half throughout the duration of the season. While he might make upwards of $6 million in 2011, it may prove to be a solid value. No doubt, the Twins will have J.J. Hardy at short again next season, even with the opportunity to non-tender him and skim some off the future payroll.